The Democrats’ Religion Problem

By DANIEL K. WILLIAMS, New York Times, JUNE 23, 2017

Carrollton, Ga. — Jon Ossoff’s defeat in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District election on Tuesday wasn’t just a sign that Democrats may have a harder time winning in the Trump era than they had hoped. It is a symptom of a larger problem for the party — a generational and racial divide between a largely secular group of young, white party activists and an older electorate that is more religious and more socially conservative.

Put simply, outside of a few progressive districts, secular-minded young activists in the party are unable to win voters’ trust.

Mr. Ossoff, 30, represented this new wing of the party. He said almost nothing about his religious beliefs or the way in which his Jewish upbringing affected his political views — probably because, like many white, college-educated Democratic activists of his generation, religion didn’t shape his political beliefs.

Mr. Ossoff’s secularism would have surprised many American liberals of the 1950s and 1960s, who looked to the moral inspiration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, both of whom saw a religious imperative for social justice. The civil rights movement was grounded so thoroughly in the theology and culture of the African-American church that the historian David L. Chappell has called it a “religious revival.” And the economic views of New Deal and Great Society liberalism echoed the positions of mainline Protestant denominations and the social teachings of 20th-century Catholicism.

In the late 1960s, some white liberals — especially college-age baby boomers — began to adopt a secularized version of liberal Protestant values. Yet even then, the Democratic Party’s leaders retained a connection to those religious traditions, which allowed them to maintain their appeal to religious voters.

Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy, the party’s leading antiwar candidates for the presidential nomination in 1968, were practicing Catholics who found inspiration in the church’s teachings. Jimmy Carter was a Southern Baptist deacon who regularly taught an adult Sunday school class during his 1976 campaign for president.

Jesse Jackson, who won several primaries in 1984 and 1988, was an ordained minister. Al Gore was a Southern Baptist who had attended divinity school. Bill Clinton had deep roots in the Southern Baptist tradition, despite his troubled relationship with some of the conservative leaders of his denomination during his presidency.

Hillary Clinton frequently cited her Methodist faith as a source of her values. And Barack Obama, despite a secular upbringing, learned to speak in the theological cadences of a Protestant Christian tradition while attending a progressive African-American church in Chicago.

Yet now younger, secular Democrats are attempting to separate their party’s progressive values from those religious traditions. Some may belong to a religious tradition or consider themselves to be spiritual people, but they are not able to speak the language of a communally based faith because it does not inform or shape their political views.

This has posed a problem at the polls, because most Democratic voters are not as secular as these activists might assume. While only 47 percent of white, college-educated Democrats identify as Christians, Christianity remains the faith of 81 percent of African-American Democrats and 76 percent of Latino Democrats.

The religious differences between generations are just as stark as the differences between racial groups. While 35 percent of millennials report having no religious affiliation, only 17 percent of baby boomers — and fewer than 11 percent of Americans born before 1945 — are religiously unaffiliated.

The party is thus split between a minority of young, educated, secular white activists and a larger group of African-Americans, Hispanics and older whites whose political values are closely tied to their faith. No wonder candidates like Mr. Ossoff struggled to connect with key blocs of the Democratic coalition.

And it’s also no wonder that the Democratic congressional leadership is still dominated by a graying generation of leaders; they are the only ones who can bridge the party’s religious divide. The median age of House Democratic representatives is now well over 60 — the highest in decades, and several years older than the median Republican age.

All four of Georgia’s Democratic representatives are 60 or older, and most have deep roots in the African-American Baptist tradition. If Mr. Ossoff had been elected to represent the Sixth District, he would have been over 30 years younger than the next-youngest member of the Georgia Democratic delegation, and he would have represented a very different set of cultural values.

What can Democrats do to bridge the divide between young, secular party activists and the rest of voters? Oddly, last year’s presidential run by Senator Bernie Sanders, a secular Jew, may suggest a way forward.

Mr. Sanders’s non-Christian background may have hurt him in the South; he did poorly among African-American voters, despite his consistent civil rights record. But he did what few other secular candidates have done: He won a sympathetic hearing from conservative evangelicals with a speech that gave a religious grounding for his economic views, complete with biblical citations. When Mr. Sanders spoke at Liberty University, he did not pretend to share evangelical Christians’ faith, but he showed respect for his audience’s religious tradition.

To do the same, secular Democrats need to study the religious language of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. They need to take the time to learn the religious values of their audience. They need to be honest about their own secularity, but acknowledge their debt to the religious traditions that have shaped their progressive ideology.

Only through a willingness to ground their policy proposals in the religious values of prospective voters will they be able to convince people of faith that they are not a threat to their values but are instead an ally in a common cause.

Daniel K. Williams is a professor of history at the University of West Georgia and the author of “God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right.”

Bradley Foundation Bankrolls Front Groups of Discredited PR Spin Doctor Richard Berman

Bradley Foundation Bankrolls Front Groups of Discredited PR Spin Doctor Richard Berman

By Mary Bottari, PR Watch, Truth-out.org, May 15, 2017

Also see: Bradley Foundation Bankrolls Attacks on Unions

Also see: Document Trove Details Bradley Foundation’s Efforts to Build Right-Wing “Infrastructure” Nationwide

Documents examined by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) pull back the curtain on the highly politicized funding of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and its relationship with Richard Berman, the public relations spin doctor dubbed a “hired gun” for corporate America by 60 Minutes.

Bradley is bankrolling multiple Berman front groups along with groups across the nation that are working to “defund Big Labor” and to destroy unions, the most significant advocate for higher wages and better working conditions in America. Berman was caught on tape telling prospective funders: “I get up every morning and I try and figure out how to screw with the labor unions” and “marginalize the people on the other side,” as CMD helped reveal in 2014.

The highly political nature of Bradley’s efforts is underscored by Bradley grantees who boast in major newspapers and in Bradley-funded publications like the Daily Signal that the evisceration of public and private sector unions in states like Wisconsin and Michigan was successful in turning blue states red in the last presidential election cycle. Bradley even has a promotional video “Blue Lakes Red States,” boasting of the success of its numerous grantees.

Berman has mastered the dark art of dissemination disinformation though front groups, websites, TV and print ads and paid social media campaigns. While most of Berman’s front groups are no more than a website, a few of them have been incorporated as non-profit “charitable” organizations. They may even have an employee attached to them and a specific focus, but as the New York Times detailed in 2016, employees are generally housed at the PR firm Berman and Co. and report to the boss, Rick Berman.

These “charities” serve the function of allowing groups like Bradley to send tax-exempt funds, which are then funneled into Berman’s wholly-owned for-profit entity, Berman and Co., under the rubric of “management fees.” This scheme has prompted Charity Navigator, an independent authority on charitable giving, to issue donor warnings on Berman front groups. It has also prompted serious complaints against Berman and Co. for abusing the tax code and engaging in activities for private benefit.

The Bradley Files suggest that the foundation is quite comfortable with the Berman shell game. Bradley board documents characterize Berman’s confusing jumble of front groups and websites as a “collaborative cluster of nonprofit groups” and reveal for the first time that Bradley itself created a Berman project called the “Interstate Policy Alliance” within Berman’s Employment Policies Institute.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), an ethics watchdog group, filed an IRS complaint against Berman some years ago and helps track the flack’s activities.

“When a company or a foundation gives money to Richard Berman or one of the groups set up and run by his consulting firm, they’re investing in his way of doing business, which includes exploiting ‘fear and anger’ to ‘shoot the messenger,’ usually in defense of issues his clients don’t want to be publicly identified with,” said Matt Corley, CREW Research Director.

One example is Berman’s “BigGreenRadicals.com” website, an attack on four environmental organizations, the National Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Food and Water Watch. The website says it is a project of the “Environmental Policy Alliance” and does not disclose Berman’s involvement. The Bradley files reveal for the first time that the foundation gave $150,000 to a Berman front group to fund this website under the misnomer “public education” (Center for Consumer Freedom, Grant Proposal Record, 11/12/2013).

In recent years, the site has been trashing environmental activists in Colorado. There has been a multi-year throw down between anti-fracking community groups battling it out against the oil and gas industry, and the national environmental groups have been lending a hand.

“Richard Berman is a go-to hire for corporate bullies. If the Bradley Foundation is paying groups to focus more on political bullying, it makes sense they would support Berman’s attacks on environmental advocates,” said Connor Gibson of Greenpeace’s investigations team.

More recently, Bradley has funded another Berman front group to “expose Big Labor’s strategies and tactics, including in the policymaking arena.” Materials included in the Bradley files as examples of Berman’s work are a series of print ads accusing teachers of treating kids like garbage and ads that liken teachers’ unions to roach traps (Center for Union Facts, Grant Proposal Record, 1/10/2015).

Bradley even has an enemies list.

In board meetings and committee meetings in 2014, Bradley Foundation staff distributed and discussed a chart of “Organizations that Attack Conservatives.” The chart lists 17 groups with information about their size, funders, and leadership. The groups are a mixture of good government groups, media groups, public relations firms, and funding organizations including, in alphabetical order:

Alliance for Justice; American Bridge, BerlinRosen; Center for American Progress/Think Progress Blog; Center for Media and Democracy; Change.org; Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW); Color of Change; Common Cause; Democracy Alliance; Fenton Communications; FitzGibbon Media; Media Matters for America; Mother Jones, One Wisconsin Now; Open Society Institute; and Progress Now.

A note with the chart says Bradley wanted to “survey the landscape of such groups for a more informed perspective about that which could perhaps be done to mitigate the damage they could do.” The note says the information about the groups came from two Berman websites “Activistfacts.com and CREWexposed.com, projects of the Bradley-supported Center for Consumer Freedom” (Meeting of the Implementation and Impact Committee, October 14, 2014).

Through Berman, the Bradley Foundation can engage in unseemly opposition research and disinformation campaigns, while still keeping the appearance of a staid, philanthropic institution.

According to the Bradley Files, Bradley has given Berman groups at least $6.5 million. Bradley gave Berman’s “Employment Policies Institute,” an organization that spreads misinformation about the effects of minimum wage increases and other workplace reforms, a total of $3,650,000 between 2009-2015; Berman’s “Center for Consumer Freedom,” a front group created to undermine public support for food-safety and animal welfare groups, $625,000 between 2009-2013; Berman’s “Center for Union Facts,” created to attack and undermine unions and collective bargaining, $2,240,000 between 2006-2015.

In addition, Bradley funds the “Capital Research Center” to work with Berman on projects. The Center is not part of the Berman operation, but is run by a former Berman employee, Scott Walter. It received $2.5 million from Bradley between 1998-2015.

But for all intents and purposes, the Bradley foundation is underwriting the activities of three people: Berman and Co. President Richard Berman, Vice President Sarah Longwell (who is often listed as the contact for Center for Consumer Freedom and many other Berman groups), and Vice President Michael Saltsman (who is also listed as the head of the Employment Policy Institute, which is located within Berman’s offices).

Bradley bankrolls Berman for at least three sets of activities:

  • Disseminating studies via the Interstate Policy Alliance
  • Recommending state infrastructure investments
  • Coaching on “crisis communication” and opposition research

Dissemination of Studies

Berman’s Employment Policies Institute (EPI) was named to confuse the public with an actual think tank, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which employs a host of PhD-level economists and other support staff. Berman’s EPI has no economists on staff, but does employ “Research Director” Michael Saltsman, who has no advanced degree. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes pinned Saltsman down on that point in a remarkable interview.

In 2013, Bradley earmarked $300,000 for a new Berman project within EPI called the Interstate Policy Alliance (IPA). In 2014, the grant for the same work doubled to $600,000 and included “crisis communication” for Bradley-funded groups on the receiving end of bad publicity, and in 2015, Bradley provided $400,000. Click here for a full list of Berman IPA groups.

Bradley documents describe IPA as a “discrete channel” for “studies” that could be utilized by state-based groups “to achieve maximum credibility in local and social media outlets.”

“Created at Bradley’s behest in 2012 and with continuing Bradley support since then, IPA is a discreet channel for the better coordination and presentation of helpful, high-quality research on existing and proposed state-level, free-market policies around the country. It provides this research, too often out of reach for many small state think tanks, and customizes it for each state to achieve maximum credibility in local- and social-media outlets. The Searle Freedom Trust has joined Bradley in support of the project” (Barder Fund, August 18, 2015).

The decline of American democracy won’t be televised

Democratic backsliding is a real threat, but we might not see it coming.

by Carlos Maza, Vox,  Jun 22, 2017

We imagine democratic failure as being some spectacular, singular event — a violent military coup or the declaration of martial law. But in a country like the United States, democratic failure is likely to look a lot less interesting.

That’s because over the past few decades, countries that have drifted away from democracy have typically done so through a process called “democratic backsliding” — the slow erosion of a country’s democratic institutions by its elected leaders. Populist leaders in countries like Turkey and Venezuela have used their power to make gradual, often legal changes to undermine restraints on their authority rather than pursuing a dramatic power grab.

When political scientists warn that Donald Trump poses a threat to American democracy, they’re usually referring to backsliding. Trump shows a deep distrust of America’s democratic institutions — he criticizes sitting judges, questions the legitimacy of an election he won, and punishes news outlets he believes cover him too harshly.

That kind of behavior poses a real challenge for journalists.

Modern news media is designed to bombard viewers with breaking news and discrete pieces of information that briefly capture audiences’ attention. But democratic backsliding doesn’t work that way — it happens slowly, through a series of steps that seem legal and benign in a vacuum but end up doing tremendous damage in the aggregate. This means news outlets are unlikely to point out that democratic backsliding has started until it’s too late.

Watch the video above to see how Trump’s anti-democratic impulses can slip under the media’s radar.

Donors to GOP: No cash until action on health care, taxes

By Associated Press, June 26, 2017

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — At least one influential donor has informed congressional Republicans that the “Dallas piggy bank” is closed until he sees major action on health care and taxes.

Texas-based donor Doug Deason has already refused to host a fundraiser for two members of Congress and informed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., his checkbook is closed as well.

“Get Obamacare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed,” Deason said in a pointed message to GOP leaders. “You control the Senate. You control the House. You have the presidency. There’s no reason you can’t get this done. Get it done and we’ll open it back up.”

Indeed, there was a sense of frustration and urgency inside the private receptions and closed-door briefings at the Koch brothers’ donor retreat this weekend in Colorado Springs, where the billionaire conservatives and their chief lieutenants warned of a rapidly shrinking window to push their agenda through Congress and get legislation to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

No agenda items mattered more to the conservative Koch network than the GOP’s promise to overhaul the nation’s tax code and repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care law. At the moment, however, both are bogged down by GOP infighting that jeopardizes their fate.

At least one Koch official warned that the Republican Party’s House majority could be in jeopardy if the GOP-led Congress doesn’t follow through.

“If they don’t make good on these promises … there are going to be consequences, and quite frankly there should be,” said Sean Lansing, chief operating officer for the Koch network’s political arm, Americans For Prosperity.

Deason, who is keeping the “Dallas piggy bank” closed for now, said he was recently approached by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, about hosting a fundraiser.

“I said, ‘No I’m not going to because we’re closing the checkbook until you get some things done,’” Deason said, noting he’s encouraged nearly two dozen major Texas donors to follow his lead.

“There is urgency,” said AFP president Tim Phillips. “We believe we have a window of about 12 months to get as much of it accomplished as possible before the 2018 elections grind policy to a halt.”

The window for action may be even smaller, some Koch allies warned at the three-day donor retreat that drew roughly 400 participants to the base of the Rocky Mountains. The price for admission for most was a pledge to give at least $100,000 this year to the Kochs’ broad policy and political network. There were also at least 18 elected officials on hand.

Some hosted private policy discussions with donors while others simply mingled.

In between meetings, Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., predicted dire consequences in next year’s midterm elections should his party fail to deliver on its repeated promises.

“If we don’t get health care, none of us are coming back,” he said in a brief interview. “We said for seven years you’re gonna repeal Obamacare. It’s nowhere near repealed.”

It’s the same for an overhaul of the tax code, Brat said: “We don’t get taxes through, we’re all going home. Pack the bags.”

While some donors threatened to withhold campaign cash, Koch’s team outlined a broader strategy to help shape the debate.

Already, Americans For Prosperity claims a paid staff of more than 400 full-time activists in 36 states. Koch officials said that the network’s midterm budget for policy and politics is between $300 million and $400 million.

The group is actively lobbying Senate Republicans to change their current health care proposal, which it views as insufficiently conservative.

“We are not committed to the Senate bill in its current form, but there is still time to make changes and we’re actively working to improve it,” Phillips said.

At the same time, Koch’s allies are aggressively pushing forward on taxes.

 

Noam Chomsky: Neoliberalism Is Destroying Our Democracy

By Christopher Lydon, thenation.com, June 2, 2017  How elites on both sides of the political spectrum have undermined our social, political, and environmental commons. ExcerptThe world in trouble today still beats a path to Noam Chomsky’s door… The New York Times calls him “arguably” the most important public thinker alive, though the paper seldom quotes him, or argues with him… he’s the humanist who railed against the Vietnam War and other projections of American power, on moral grounds first, ahead of practical considerations. He remains a rock star on college campuses, here and abroad, and he’s become a sort of North Star for the post-Occupy generation that today refuses to feel the Bern-out. He remains, unfortunately, a figure alien in the places where policy gets made….Last week, we visited Chomsky with an open-ended mission in mind: We were looking for a nonstandard account of our recent history from a man known for telling the truth. We’d written him that we wanted to hear not what he thinks but how. He’d written back that hard work and an open mind have a lot to do with it, also, in his words,  a “Socratic-style willingness to ask whether conventional doctrines are justified.”When so many people were on the edge of something, something historic. NC: Well, a brief summary I think is if you take a look at recent history since the Second World War, something really remarkable has happened. First, human intelligence created two huge sledgehammers capable of terminating our existence—or at least organized existence… The Second World War ended with the use of nuclear weapons. It was immediately obvious on August 6, 1945, a day that I remember very well. It was obvious that soon technology would develop to the point where it would lead to terminal disaster. Scientists certainly understood this. …we now understand that at the end of the Second World War the world also entered into a new geological epoch. It’s called the Anthropocene, the epoch in which humans have a severe, in fact maybe disastrous impact on the environmentSo there’s the two existential threats that we’ve created—which might in the case of nuclear war maybe wipe us out; in the case of environmental catastrophe, create a severe impact—and then some.

A third thing happened. Beginning around the ’70s, human intelligence dedicated itself to eliminating, or at least weakening, the main barrier against these threats. It’s called neoliberalism. There was a transition at that time from the period of what some people call “regimented capitalism,” the ’50s and ’60s, the great growth period, egalitarian growth, a lot of advances in social justice and so on— Since the Second World War, we have created two means of destruction. Since the neoliberal era, we have dismantled the way of handling them.

It’s not called that. What it’s called is “freedom,” but “freedom” means a subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power. That’s what it means. The institutions of governance—or other kinds of association that could allow people to participate in decision making—those are systematically weakened. Margaret Thatcher said it rather nicely in her aphorism about “there is no society, only individuals.”For Thatcher, it’s an ideal—and that’s neoliberalism. We destroy or at least undermine the governing mechanisms by which people at least in principle can participate to the extent that society’s democratic. So weaken them, undermine unions, other forms of association… transfer decisions to unaccountable private power all in the rhetoric of freedom.

Well, what does that do? The one barrier to the threat of destruction is an engaged public, an informed, engaged public acting together to develop means to confront the threat and respond to it. That’s been systematically weakened, consciously… it was predictable. You didn’t know exactly when, but when you impose socioeconomic policies that lead to stagnation or decline for the majority of the population, undermine democracy, remove decision-making out of popular hands, you’re going to get anger, discontent, fear take all kinds of forms. And that’s the phenomenon that’s misleadingly called “populism.”… Well, that’s the fault of the information system, because it’s very comprehensible and very obvious and very simple…[ CL: Pankaj Mishra calls it—it’s a Nietzschean word—“ressentiment,” meaning this kind of explosive rage. But he says, “It’s the defining feature of a world where the modern promise of equality collides with massive disparities of power, education, status and— Which was designed that way, which was designed that way. Go back to the 1970s. Across the spectrum, elite spectrum, there was deep concern about the activism of the ’60s. It’s called the “time of troubles.” It civilized the country, which is dangerous. What happened is that large parts of the population—which had been passive, apathetic, obedient—tried to enter the political arena in one or another way to press their interests and concerns. They’re called “special interests.” That means minorities, young people, old people, farmers, workers, women. In other words, the population. The population are special interests, and their task is to just watch quietly. And that was explicit.

Two documents came out right in the mid-’70s, which are quite important. They came from opposite ends of the political spectrum, both influential, and both reached the same conclusions. One of them, at the left end, was by the Trilateral Commission—liberal internationalists, three major industrial countries, basically the Carter administration, that’s where they come from. That is the more interesting one [The Crisis of Democracy, a Trilateral Commission report]. The American rapporteur Samuel Huntington of Harvard, he looked back with nostalgia to the days when, as he put it, Truman was able to run the country with the cooperation of a few Wall Street lawyers and executives. Then everything was fine. Democracy was perfect. But in the ’60s they all agreed it became problematic because the special interests started trying to get into the act, and that causes too much pressure and the state can’t handle that. … This is a consensus view of the liberal internationalists and the three industrial democracies. They—in their consensus—they concluded that a major problem is what they called, their words, “the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young.” The schools, the universities, churches, they’re not doing their job. They’re not indoctrinating the young properly. The young have to be returned to passivity and obedience, and then democracy will be fine. That’s the left end.

Now what do you have at the right end? A very influential document, the Powell Memorandum a confidential memorandum for the US Chamber of Commerce, which has been extremely influential. It more or less set off the modern so-called “conservative movement.the basic picture is that this rampaging left has taken over everything. We have to use the resources that we have to beat back this rampaging New Left which is undermining freedom and democracy. Connected with this was something else. As a result of the activism of the ’60s and the militancy of labor, there was a falling rate of profit. That’s not acceptable. So we have to reverse the falling rate of profit, we have to undermine democratic participation, what comes? Neoliberalism, which has exactly those effects.

Full text

For 50 years, Noam Chomsky, has been America’s Socrates, our public pest with questions that sting. He speaks not to the city square of Athens but to a vast global village in pain and now, it seems, in danger.

The world in trouble today still beats a path to Noam Chomsky’s door, if only because he’s been forthright for so long about a whirlwind coming. Not that the world quite knows what do with Noam Chomsky’s warnings of disaster in the making. Remember the famous faltering of the patrician TV host William F. Buckley Jr., meeting Chomsky’s icy anger about the war in Vietnam, in 1969.

It’s a strange thing about Noam Chomsky: The New York Times calls him “arguably” the most important public thinker alive, though the paper seldom quotes him, or argues with him, and giant pop-media stars on network television almost never do. And yet the man is universally famous and revered in his 89th year: He’s the scientist who taught us to think of human language as something embedded in our biology, not a social acquisition; he’s the humanist who railed against the Vietnam War and other projections of American power, on moral grounds first, ahead of practical considerations. He remains a rock star on college campuses, here and abroad, and he’s become a sort of North Star for the post-Occupy generation that today refuses to feel the Bern-out.

He remains, unfortunately, a figure alien in the places where policy gets made. But on his home ground at MIT, he is a notably accessible old professor who answers his e-mail and receives visitors like us with a twinkle.

Last week, we visited Chomsky with an open-ended mission in mind: We were looking for a nonstandard account of our recent history from a man known for telling the truth. We’d written him that we wanted to hear not what he thinks but how. He’d written back that hard work and an open mind have a lot to do with it, also, in his words,  a “Socratic-style willingness to ask whether conventional doctrines are justified.”

Christopher Lydon: All we want you to do is to explain where in the world we are at a time—

Noam Chomsky: That’s easy.

CL: [Laughs]—When so many people were on the edge of something, something historic. Is there a Chomsky summary?

NC: Brief summary?

CL: Yeah.

NC: Well, a brief summary I think is if you take a look at recent history since the Second World War, something really remarkable has happened. First, human intelligence created two huge sledgehammers capable of terminating our existence—or at least organized existence—both from the Second World War. One of them is familiar. In fact, both are by now familiar. The Second World War ended with the use of nuclear weapons. It was immediately obvious on August 6, 1945, a day that I remember very well. It was obvious that soon technology would develop to the point where it would lead to terminal disaster. Scientists certainly understood this.

In 1947 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists inaugurated its famous Doomsday Clock. You know, how close the minute hand was to midnight? And it started seven minutes to midnight. By 1953 it had moved to two minutes to midnight. That was the year when the United States and Soviet Union exploded hydrogen bombs. But it turns out we now understand that at the end of the Second World War the world also entered into a new geological epoch. It’s called the Anthropocene, the epoch in which humans have a severe, in fact maybe disastrous impact on the environment. It moved again in 2015, again in 2016. Immediately after the Trump election late January this year, the clock was moved again to two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest it’s been since ’53.

So there’s the two existential threats that we’ve created—which might in the case of nuclear war maybe wipe us out; in the case of environmental catastrophe, create a severe impact—and then some.

A third thing happened. Beginning around the ’70s, human intelligence dedicated itself to eliminating, or at least weakening, the main barrier against these threats. It’s called neoliberalism. There was a transition at that time from the period of what some people call “regimented capitalism,” the ’50s and ’60s, the great growth period, egalitarian growth, a lot of advances in social justice and so on—

CL: Social democracy…

NC: Social democracy, yeah. That’s sometimes called “the golden age of modern capitalism.” That changed in the ’70s with the onset of the neoliberal era that we’ve been living in since. And if you ask yourself what this era is, its crucial principle is undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy.

It’s not called that. What it’s called is “freedom,” but “freedom” means a subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power. That’s what it means. The institutions of governance—or other kinds of association that could allow people to participate in decision making—those are systematically weakened. Margaret Thatcher said it rather nicely in her aphorism about “there is no society, only individuals.”

Since the Second World War, we have created two means of destruction. Since the neoliberal era, we have dismantled the way of handling them.

She was actually, unconsciously no doubt, paraphrasing Marx, who in his condemnation of the repression in France said, “The repression is turning society into a sack of potatoes, just individuals, an amorphous mass can’t act together.” That was a condemnation. For Thatcher, it’s an ideal—and that’s neoliberalism. We destroy or at least undermine the governing mechanisms by which people at least in principle can participate to the extent that society’s democratic. So weaken them, undermine unions, other forms of association, leave a sack of potatoes and meanwhile transfer decisions to unaccountable private power all in the rhetoric of freedom.

Well, what does that do? The one barrier to the threat of destruction is an engaged public, an informed, engaged public acting together to develop means to confront the threat and respond to it. That’s been systematically weakened, consciously. I mean, back to the 1970s we’ve probably talked about this. There was a lot of elite discussion across the spectrum about the danger of too much democracy and the need to have what was called more “moderation” in democracy, for people to become more passive and apathetic and not to disturb things too much, and that’s what the neoliberal programs do. So put it all together and what do you have? A perfect storm.

CL: What everybody notices is all the headline things, including Brexit and Donald Trump and Hindu nationalism and nationalism everywhere and Le Pen all kicking in more or less together and suggesting some real world phenomenon.

NC: it’s very clear, and it was predictable. You didn’t know exactly when, but when you impose socioeconomic policies that lead to stagnation or decline for the majority of the population, undermine democracy, remove decision-making out of popular hands, you’re going to get anger, discontent, fear take all kinds of forms. And that’s the phenomenon that’s misleadingly called “populism.”

CL: I don’t know what you think of Pankaj Mishra, but I enjoy his book Age of Anger, and he begins with an anonymous letter to a newspaper from somebody who says, “We should admit that we are not only horrified but baffled. Nothing since the triumph of Vandals in Rome and North Africa has seemed so suddenly incomprehensible and difficult to reverse.”

NC: Well, that’s the fault of the information system, because it’s very comprehensible and very obvious and very simple. Take, say the United States, which actually suffered less from these policies than many other countries. Take the year 2007, a crucial year right before the crash.

CL: Pankaj Mishra calls it—it’s a Nietzschean word—“ressentiment,” meaning this kind of explosive rage. But he says, “It’s the defining feature of a world where the modern promise of equality collides with massive disparities of power, education, status and—

NC: Which was designed that way, which was designed that way. Go back to the 1970s. Across the spectrum, elite spectrum, there was deep concern about the activism of the ’60s. It’s called the “time of troubles.” It civilized the country, which is dangerous. What happened is that large parts of the population—which had been passive, apathetic, obedient—tried to enter the political arena in one or another way to press their interests and concerns. They’re called “special interests.” That means minorities, young people, old people, farmers, workers, women. In other words, the population. The population are special interests, and their task is to just watch quietly. And that was explicit.

Two documents came out right in the mid-’70s, which are quite important. They came from opposite ends of the political spectrum, both influential, and both reached the same conclusions. One of them, at the left end, was by the Trilateral Commission—liberal internationalists, three major industrial countries, basically the Carter administration, that’s where they come from. That is the more interesting one [The Crisis of Democracy, a Trilateral Commission report]. The American rapporteur Samuel Huntington of Harvard, he looked back with nostalgia to the days when, as he put it, Truman was able to run the country with the cooperation of a few Wall Street lawyers and executives. Then everything was fine. Democracy was perfect.

But in the ’60s they all agreed it became problematic because the special interests started trying to get into the act, and that causes too much pressure and the state can’t handle that.

CL: I remember that book well.

NC: We have to have more moderation in democracy.

CL: Not only that, he turned Al Smith’s line around. Al Smith said, “The cure for democracy is more democracy.” He said, “No, the cure for this democracy is less democracy.”

NC: It wasn’t him. It was the liberal establishment. He was speaking for them. This is a consensus view of the liberal internationalists and the three industrial democracies. They—in their consensus—they concluded that a major problem is what they called, their words, “the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young.” The schools, the universities, churches, they’re not doing their job. They’re not indoctrinating the young properly. The young have to be returned to passivity and obedience, and then democracy will be fine. That’s the left end.

Now what do you have at the right end? A very influential document, the Powell Memorandum, came out at the same time. Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer, later Supreme Court justice, he produced a confidential memorandum for the US Chamber of Commerce, which has been extremely influential. It more or less set off the modern so-called “conservative movement.” The rhetoric is kind of crazy. We don’t go through it, but the basic picture is that this rampaging left has taken over everything. We have to use the resources that we have to beat back this rampaging New Left which is undermining freedom and democracy.

Connected with this was something else. As a result of the activism of the ’60s and the militancy of labor, there was a falling rate of profit. That’s not acceptable. So we have to reverse the falling rate of profit, we have to undermine democratic participation, what comes? Neoliberalism, which has exactly those effects.

Listen to the full conversation with Noam Chomsky on Radio Open Source.

Our Divided Political Heart – The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent

Reviews and excerptsNPR excerpt is directly from the book; all other excerpt selections and highlighting done by web curator, Phyllis Stenerson

1 – Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E.J. Dionne Jr., review by Jeff Greenfield, Washington Post, June 1, 2012

2 -  ‘Our Divided Political Heart’ by E. J. Dionne Jr., review By GEOFFREY KABASERVICE, New York Times, SEPT. 28, 2012

3 – Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E. J. Dionne Jr. , NPR.org – excerpt

4 – Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent By: E.J. Dionne Jr., Bloomsbury.com -  – About Our Divided Political Heart – Who are we as a nation? And what is it that’s tearing us apart?

5 – Our Divided Political Heart, The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E.J. Dionne, bookbrowse.com  May 2012 – book summary

*   *   *   *   *   *  

1 - Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E.J. Dionne Jr. By Jeff Greenfield, Washington Post, June 1, 2012

“a richly researched tour of history to restore the broken consensus about who we are and what America stands for.”

If you want a perfect embodiment of the political divide that E.J. Dionne Jr. describes and laments in his new book, “Our Divided Political Heart,” there’s no better place to look than the credentials of E.J. Dionne Jr.: columnist for The Washington Post; senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; professor at Georgetown University; regular guest on “Meet the Press,” MSNBC and NPR.

These credentials, the very model of a modern major commentator, are multiple red flags for the millions who see in academia, D.C.-based liberal think tanks and most of the media the very forces that helped dragoon America away from its authentic roots and traditions. They all but ensure that anything Dionne might say would be rejected out of hand. And they help explain why his ambitious and estimable mission — to remind skeptical Americans of the strong communitarian foundations of the republic — is probably doomed to failure. The very folks Dionne is most determined to convince are the ones most likely to dismiss the historical evidence that fills almost every page by replying, “Consider the source.”

“Building a new consensus,” he says at the outset, “will be impossible if the parties to our political struggles continue to insist that a single national trait explains our success as a nation and that a single idea drives and dominates our story.” Our country, he says, “has witnessed the rise of a radical form of individualism that simultaneously denigrates the role of government and the importance most Americans attach to the quest for community.” Dionne believes that figures as diverse as Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt would have been appalled by the understanding — or, rather, misunderstanding — of what “the American System” is all about. And over the next 200-plus pages, Dionne marshals an array of historians to reinforce this central point.

Where did this misunderstanding come from? For Dionne, its locus is the late 19th century, the Gilded Age, when social Darwinism was at its peak and when the Supreme Court was turning the 14th Amendment on its head, substituting corporate coddling for the goal of using federal power to protect citizens from abuse at the hands of the states. For most of our history, he argues, and especially over most of the 20th century, America has been guided by “the long consensus” — from the first Roosevelt through Ronald Reagan — that while it would be wrong “to deny the power of individualism in our history . . . it is just as misleading to ignore our yearnings for a strong common life and our republican quest for civic virtue.”

Yet, apart from that résumé that would make reciprocal respect unlikely, Dionne’s case for the rebuilding of the long consensus is exactly what the current version of American conservatism does not want. As Karl Marx once said of his fellow communists, the tea party disdains to conceal its aims. In his maiden speech last year, Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) was sharply critical of Henry Clay’s compromises, embracing instead the abolitionist stance of Henry’s cousin Cassius Clay. When Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared in his presidential announcement speech that he sought to “make Washington as inconsequential in your life as I can,” there was no one on the right who suggested that this might be at odds with American history.

When Richard Mourdock, who recently defeated Indiana’s Richard Lugar in his attempt to extend his 36-year Senate career, was asked about bipartisanship, he said, “I have a mind-set that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”

If Dionne’s effort to find common ground is likely to fail, it does not lessen his achievement. His case is strong enough, serious enough and grounded enough to challenge those on the other side of the divide to offer a counterargument as rigorously argued as this one. 

2 Our Divided Political Heart’ by E. J. Dionne Jr. By GEOFFREY KABASERVICE, New York Times, SEPT. 28, 2012

The Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr… examines current political concerns through the lens of history, religion and philosophy. But while readers will admire Dionne’s intellectual dexterity in diagnosing the historical origins of our present political problem of division and dysfunction, they may also wish he could make a more substantive case for how we might move beyond it….he situates our current divisions in the full sweep of American history, going back to the founders — since, as he observes, “Americans disagree about who we are because we can’t agree about who we’ve been.”

Dionne posits that American history has always been characterized by tension between the core values of individualism and community. Americans have cherished liberty, individual opportunity and self-expression while also upholding the importance of community obligation and civic virtue. The founders referred to these values as liberalism and republicanism, and the effort to balance and reconcile them has shaped the American character. Neither value is reducible to liberalism or conservatism as we now understand them, although communitarianism presumes a belief that government is at least potentially a constructive force. Dionne, a self-described “communitarian liberal,” acknowledges that he has much in common with conservative intellectuals like Robert Nisbet and the “compassionate conservatives” around George W. Bush. But Dionne argues that today’s Tea Party-influenced conservatives have broken with their communitarian traditions and become zealots for radical individualism. He pleads for a return to the balance between individual and community values that characterized most of American ­history.

Conservatives’ contentions that the founders believed in minimal government and maximal individualism, for example, are countered by the findings of scholars like Gordon Wood that the American revolutionaries sought to create a strong federal government and conceived of a highly communal and at times anticapitalistic version of liberty. Dionne points out that conservative justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas who claim to be able to discern the “original intent” of the Constitution are deluded, since the founders held conflicting views and some provisions of the Constitution “embody not timeless truths but sensitive compromises aimed at resolving (or getting around) pressing disagreements of the moment.”the laissez-faire doctrine of the Gilded Age was an aberration, and that “conservative individualists are thus trying to convert a 35-year interlude into the norm for 235 years of American history.”

… he hopes that Occupy Wall Street will find expression in traditional politics, just as the Progressives fulfilled many Populist goals by joining them with the aspirations of the middle class. The merger of Populism and Progressivism, in Dionne’s view, laid the groundwork for “the Long Consensus”: the active-government commitment to prosperity that expanded both individual opportunity and collective security in the century after Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency in 1901. It is this consensus, along with the balance and moderation it embodied, that is threatened by a Republican Party newly converted to the cause of radical ­individualism.

…. He shouldn’t be accused of political favoritism for diagnosing the current moment of “asymmetric polarization,” in which Republicans seek to overturn the Long Consensus while Democrats defend it. “If describing developments in American political life candidly is dismissed as a form of partisanship,” he warns, “then honest speech becomes impossible.”

… while he is justly critical of ideologically compromised right-wing history, he calls ideological left-wing revisionism “important,” “debunking” and thought-provoking.

Dionne declares that “the country confronts a time of decision,” one that demands more than “musty bromides” about moderation or mere procedural reforms…He hopes Republicans will recover their abandoned communitarian traditions The history Dionne tells can provide inspiration and guidance, but Americans will have to find new ways of thinking and acting if they are to restore the political balance that once enabled American greatness.

3 – Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E. J. Dionne Jr. – excerpt of this book  INTRODUCTION – Who We Are: Liberty, Community, and the American Character – NPR.ORG 

Fear of decline is one of the oldest American impulses. It speaks, oddly, to our confidence that we occupy a lofty position in history and among nations: we always assume we are in a place from which we can decline. It’s why there is a vast literature on “American exceptionalism” and why we think of ourselves as “a city on a hill,” “the first new nation,” “a beacon to the world,” and “a light among nations.”

When they arise, our declinist sentiments usually have specific sources in economic or foreign policy travails. These apprehensions quickly lead to bouts of soul-searching that go beyond concrete problems to abstract and even spiritual worries about the nation’s values and moral purposes. When we feel we are in decline, we sense that we have lost our balance. We argue about what history teaches us — and usually disagree about what history actually says. We conclude that behind every crisis related to economics and the global distribution of power lurks a crisis of the soul….

the words hope and believe were pointed responses to a spiritual crisis engendered by fears of lost supremacy. They help explain why the Obama campaign so often felt like a religious crusade…. The difficulty in producing a sustainable economic upturn (even if the hopes for a miraculous recovery were always unrealistic) only deepened the nation’s sense that something was badly wrong. Obama … failed, particularly in the first part of his term, to understand how the depth of the nation’s political polarization would inevitably foil his pledge to bring the country together across the lines of party and ideology…Whatever Obama was for, whatever he undertook, whatever he proposed — all of it was seen as undermining traditional American liberties and moving the country toward some ill-defined socialism. Whatever else they did, Republicans would make sure they prevented Obama from accomplishing anything more. Over and over, they vowed to make him a one-term president…This book is an effort to make sense of our current political unhappiness, to offer an explanation for why divisions in our politics run so deep, and to reflect on why we are arguing so much about our nation’s history and what it means.

Americans are right to sense that the country confronts a time of decisionWe are right to feel that traditional paths to upward mobility have been blocked, that inequalities have grown, and that the old social contract — written in the wake of World War II and based on shared prosperity — has been torn up. Musty bromides about centrism and moderation will do nothing to quell our anxieties and our fears.

… our current unease arises less from a shortage of specific plans or programs than from a sense that our political system is so obstructed and so polarized that even good ideas commanding broad support have little chance of prevailing. We don’t have constructive debate because we cannot agree on the facts or on any common ground defined by shared moral commitments.   

4 Our Divided Political Heart The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent By: E.J. Dionne Jr. – www.bloomsbury.com

About Our Divided Political Heart – Who are we as a nation? And what is it that’s tearing us apart? In Our Divided Political Heart, E. J. Dionne Jr., one of our most respected political commentators, argues that Americans can’t agree on who we are because we can’t agree on who we’ve been. The American tradition, Dionne says, points not to radical self-reliance and self-interest, but to a balance between our love of individual freedom and our devotion to community. With a deep understanding of our nation’s past, Dionne crafts an incisive analysis of how hyper-individualism is poisoning our current political atmosphere. He shares the Tea Party’s engagement with the American past, but takes on its distortions of our history while rooting the Occupy Wall Street movement in America’s civic and Populist traditions.

Dionne offers both a fascinating tour of American history-from the Founding Fathers to Clay and Lincoln, on to Populism, the Progressives, and the New Dealers-and an interpretation of our moment’s politics that shatters conventional wisdom. He reclaims the American idea of the federal government as an active and constructive partner with the rest of society in promoting prosperity, opportunity, and American greatness. And he challenges progressives to embrace their country’s story-to redefine progress and to put an end to our fears of decline.
Our Divided Political Heart is indispensable for all who seek a path out of America’s current impasse.

Reviews

“As he has so often, E.J. Dionne has written a brilliant new book, and it places our current division in political and cultural context” –  Paul Begala, Newsweek

“[A]n earnest effort to reach across the political divide….Dionne takes his readers on a richly researched tour of history to restore the broken consensus about who we are and what America stands for.His case is strong enough, serious enough and grounded enough to challenge those on the other side of the divide to offer a counterargument as rigorously argued as this one.” –  Washington Post

5 Our Divided Political Heart, The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E.J. Dionne, bookbrowse.com  May 2012 – book summary

Our Divided Political Heart will be the must-read book of the 2012 election campaign. Offering an incisive analysis of how hyper-individualism is poisoning the nation’s political atmosphere, E. J. Dionne Jr. argues that Americans can’t agree on who we are because we can’t agree on who we’ve been, or what it is, philosophically and spiritually, that makes us Americans. Dionne takes on the Tea Party’s distortions of American history and shows that the true American tradition points not to radical individualism, but to a balance between our love of individualism and our devotion to community.

Dionne offersan analysis of our current politics that shatters conventional wisdom. The true American idea, far from endorsing government inaction or indifference, has always viewed the federal government as an active and constructive partner with the rest of society in promoting prosperity, opportunity, and American greatness. ystem to self-correct is its greatest asset and Dionne challenges progressives to embrace the American story he renews our hope that cooler heads can prevail with a renewed balance of individual rights and the needs of the community.” – Kirkus Reviews

Our Divided Political Heart recalls us to an American past that speaks powerfully, and hopefully, to our present political travails. Every citizen concerned about the state of our politics should read this book.” – Michael J. Sandel, author of Justice

“This is a brilliant book about America’s current political divide. But more importantly, it’s an insightful exploration of our nation’s history and our ability to balance individualism with community. That sense of balance has been lost, and this book shows how we can restore a shared appreciation for our historic values.” – Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin  

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a columnist for the Washington Post, and University Professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University. He appears weekly on NPR and regularly on MSNBC and NBC’s Meet the Press. His twice-weekly op-ed column is now syndicated in 140 newspapers. His writing has been published in The Atlantic, The New Republic, The American Prospect, The Washington Post Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Commonweal, New Statesman, and elsewhere. He is the author, editor, or co-editor of numerous books, including the classic bestseller Why Americans Hate Politics, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was nominated for the National Book Award. His most recent book is Souled Out. Dionne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with wife, Mary Boyle, and their three children.

Is Radicalism Possible Today?

sEE A response to:Is Radicalism Possible Today? BY pHYLLIS sTENERSON, 6/15/17

by David Brooks, The Opinion Pages,  New York Times, JUNE 13, 2017

Are you feeling radical? Do you think that the status quo is fundamentally broken and we have to start thinking about radical change? If so, I’d like to go back a century so that we might learn how radicalism is done.

The years around 1917 were a great period of radical ferment. Folks at The New Republic magazine were championing progressivism, which would transform how the economy is regulated and how democracy works. At The Masses, left-wing activists were fomenting a global socialist revolution. Outside the White House radical suffragists were protesting for the right to vote and creating modern feminism.

People in those days had one thing we have in abundance: an urge to rebel against the current reality — in their case against the brutalities of industrialization, the rigidities of Victorianism, the stale formulas of academic thinking.

But they also had a whole series of mechanisms they thought they could use to implement change. If you were searching for a new consciousness, there was a neighborhood to go to: Greenwich Village. If you were searching for a dissident lifestyle, there was one — Bohemianism, with its artistic rejection of commercial life.

People had faith in small magazines as the best lever to change the culture and the world. People had faith in the state, in central planning as an effective tool to reorganize the economy and liberate the oppressed. Radicals had faith in the working class, to ally with the intellectuals and form a common movement against concentrated wealth.

There were many people then who had a genius for creating ideals, and for betting their whole lives on an effort to live out these ideals. I’ve just been reading Jeremy McCarter’s inspiring and entertaining new book “Young Radicals,” which is a group portrait of five of those radicals: Walter Lippmann, Randolph Bourne, Max Eastman, Alice Paul and John Reed.

All of them had a youthful and exuberant faith that transformational change was imminently possible. Reed was the romantic adventurer — the one who left Harvard and ventured to be at the center of wherever the action might be — union strikes, the Russian Revolution. Paul was the dogged one — the diminutive activist who gave up sleep, gave up leisure, braved rancid prisons to serve the suffragist movement.

But the two true geniuses were Lippmann and Bourne, who offer lessons on different styles of radicalism. With his magisterial, organized mind, Lippmann threw his lot in with social science, with rule by experts. He believed in centralizing and nationalizing, and letting the best minds weigh the evidence and run the country. He lived his creed, going from socialist journalism to the halls of Woodrow Wilson’s administration.

Bourne was more visionary and vulnerable. He’d grown up in a stiflingly dull WASP town. It was only when he met the cosmopolitan stew of different ethnicities in New York that he got the chance to “breathe a larger air.” At a time of surging immigration, and fierce debate over it, Bourne celebrated that “America is coming to be, not a nationality but a trans-nationality, a weaving back and forth, with the other lands, of many threads of all sizes and colors.”

Bourne believed in decentralized change — personal, spiritual, a revolution in consciousness. The “Beloved Community” he imagined was a bottom-up, Whitmanesque “spiritual welding,” a graceful coming together of unlike ethnicities.

The crucial decision point came as the United States approached entry into World War I. Lippmann supported the war, believing that it would demand more federal planning and therefore would accelerate social change. Bourne was appalled by such instrumentalist thinking, by the acceptance of war’s savagery. As McCarter puts it, “As Bourne has been arguing, no choice that supports a war will realize any ideal worth the name.”

The radicals split between pragmatists willing to work within the system and visionaries who raised larger possibilities from outside. Spreading their ideals, they pushed America forward. Living out their ideals, most were disillusioned. Reed lost faith in the Soviet Union. Lippmann lost faith in Wilson after Versailles. Bourne died marginalized and bitter during the flu epidemic of 1918.

Bourne was the least important radical a century ago, but with his fervent embrace of a decentralized, globalist, cosmopolitan world, he is the most relevant today. He is the best rebuttal to both Trumpian populism and the multicultural separatist movements on the left, who believe in separate graduation ceremonies by race, or that the normal exchange of ideas among people represents cultural appropriation.

Most of the 20th-century radicals were wrong to put their faith in a revolutionary vanguard, a small group who could see farther and know better. Bourne was right to understand that the best change is dialogical, the gradual, grinding conversation, pitting interest against interest, one group’s imperfections against another’s, but bound by common nationhood and humanity.

Are we really going to hand revolutionary power to the state, the intellectuals, the social scientists, the working class or any other class? No. This is not 1917. But can we recommit ourselves to the low but steady process of politics, bartering and exchanging, which is incremental about means but radical about ends? That’s a safer bet.

Wanted: A Massive Education, Organizing Drive and Progressive Vision to Vanquish Trump

by Les Leopold, www.commondreams.org, June 3, 2017 www.commondreams.org/views/2017/06/03/wanted-massive-education-organizing-drive-and-progressive-vision-vanquish-trump

As Trump stumbles, and maybe crumbles, progressives are confronting a painful truth: Trump is a reflection of a much bigger problem ― the rise of runaway inequality and the failure of the liberal establishment to address it.

Between 1980 and 2014, the gap between the top 100 CEOs and the average worker climbed from $40 to one to an incredible $844 to one. All boats did not rise. During that time the real income of the average worker (after accounting for inflation) actually declined. Both Republicans and Democrats alike rushed to deregulate Wall Street, which is a major cause of these enormous gaps.

The Democrats, who once spoke for these working people, are in real danger of losing them. Since 2008, they have given up 917 state, local and federal elected offices. There are now 33 Republic governorships.

Who’s to blame?

In workshops around the country, we’ve been asking participants why Trump won. The answers primarily focus on the Comey letter, Hillary as a poor candidate, the Russian hacking, anti-establishment protest, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and so on..

In no instance is there any self-reflection from progressives about our own role in any of this. Isn’t it possible that maybe, just maybe, the enormous rightward drift has something to do with us ― with how progressives are organized and disorganized? At the very least, we should admit the obvious: all of this happened and continues to happen on our watch. To not take some responsibility for this growing calamity is to concede that we have no agency, no power, and no effective strategy to forge meaningful social change.

The Hazards of Silo Organizing

For the last generation, progressives have organized themselves into issue silos, each with its own agenda. Survival depends on fundraising (largely from private foundations) based on the uniqueness of one’s own silo. Each group must develop its own expertise and activities which distinguish it from other groups. Each needs to proclaim that its issue is the existential threat, be it climate change, police violence, abortion rights or health care. The net result of this Darwinian struggle is a fractured landscape of activity. The creativity, talent and skill are there in abundance, but the coherence and common purpose among groups is not.

Siloed organizational structures also make it extremely difficult to cooperate on a common program to reverse runaway inequality, There is little incentive to form a grand progressive alliance to build what the Sanders campaign, for example, had set in motion. Better to launch your own national effort and claim that it is the center of the organizing universe.

It is therefore not surprising that the two biggest progressive challenges to runaway inequality in the last decade ― Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders campaign ― did not arise from within these siloed organizations. OWS largely grew from a notice in Adbusters, a Vancouver, BC, journal. Most of those who did the occupying at the 900 encampments also did not come from progressive siloed organizations. In fact, the non-profit/NGO community more or less watched from the sidelines.

Similarly, the Sanders campaign also did not emerge from a concerted effort among progressives to create a new politics within the Democratic Party. Rather, it was driven by Bernie’s own social-democratic vision that he had been espousing for over 40 years, year after year after year. When his effort showed signs of life, progressives broadly divided between the idealists feeling the burn and the pragmatists seeking to back a sure winner, who at least would provide access to progressive ideas.

Talking to Ourselves?

The advent of Trump certainly has unleashed an enormous amount of progressive activity. In addition to the many sizeable marches, there are now approximately 5,000 Indivisible groups making life miserable for Republican office holders. However, nearly all of this activity is anti-Trump and defensive. There is no common Indivisible national agenda, nor is there a common organization to set a coherent strategic direction.

More importantly, pure anti-Trumpism guarantees we will be talking to the already convinced. By focusing solely on Trump, it becomes next to impossible to reach the Trump voters who also voted for Sanders and Obama.

Some argue that such outreach is a waste of time because there really are not that many Obama-to-Sanders-to-Trump voters. Unfortunately, exit polls do not give us enough data to reasonably estimate the size of this hybrid voting population. But sources inside the United Steelworkers, for example, report that 50 percent of their members who voted, voted for Trump. Given how representative those members are of the broader working class, we’re probably looking at several million Obama-Sanders-Trump voters.

We do know this: In the state of Michigan there was a 500,000 vote loss from Obama (2012) to Clinton (2016). It was minus 290,000 in Pennsylvania and minus 222,000 in Wisconsin.

Very few, if any of our siloed progressive organizations are targeting these working people. Danger ahead.

The Deplorables?

It will not be easy for progressive to reach out to Trump voters, unionized or not. In part, that is because anti-Trump defensive activity has become the basis for a new wave of silo organizing and fundraising. Each group is claiming that its activities will be the most effective means for upending the Trump agenda and returning Congress to the Democrats.

The animosity towards Trump voters runs deep. One prominent progressive educator told me privately that Trump voters should be viewed as terrorists ― that their anti-establishment revolt was like throwing a grenade into a crowd, and we’re the collateral damage. Others argue that the Trump voters really are “deplorables” when it comes to their racism, sexism and anti-immigrant beliefs.

The suspicion also spreads to those who do want to reach out to these Obama-Sanders-Trump voters. They are often criticized for favoring class over race ― for failing to put anti-racism as the central feature of all organizing and educational efforts. So for example, if addressing “white skin privilege” is not a major part of the education, then the education is viewed as catering to the racist white working class.

This can cascade into a series of litmus tests on race, gender, immigration, abortion, global warming, etc that must be passed in order to be welcomed into the progressive community. While there is no denying that these issues are of critical importance, the net effect of administering such tests is that progressives will be stuck within their own bubbles.

The Power of Education:

We’re facing a moment of truth about education and social change. We need to decide whether or not we believe that real education about big picture issues can make a difference in how people see the world. This kind of education is not the same as campaign propaganda, sound bite memes or technical training about how to get out the vote or organize an action. It’s about building a broad-based discussion on how the economy works and doesn’t work, and how to make it serve us all. Here are some of its features:

1. Placing a Target on Wall Street: By showing how and why society is growing more unequal, runaway inequality education (see runawayinequality.org) lays bare the ways in which Wall Street and its CEO partners engage in financial strip-mining, ― the immoral siphoning away of wealth from our jobs, communities and families. The weapons of financial engineering are many including mortgage fraud, high interest student loans, stock buybacks, payday loans, too big to fail/jail, bailouts, tax loopholes, tax breaks, off-shore accounts, privatization of public assets, and many, many more. None of our silos are immune from ravages of financial strip-mining

2. Building Common Ground: Big picture education can tie together virtually all the issues that we care deeply about. Runaway inequality and runaway finance are linked to runaway global warming. The forces causing runaway inequality are connected to the rise of the prison population and the expansion of private prisons where we now warehouse millions of our impoverished youth. It’s tied to the attack on union rights, the decline of good paying jobs, the harassment of immigrants and the failure of our corporate-run health care system. This educational process helps us see that our issue silos are in fact deeply connected.

3. Safe space for Dialogue: A strong educational process provides an excellent venue to have dialogue with those that do not immediately share every progressive value or position. I’ve done runaway inequality workshops with Trump voters and the response has been positive. They too want to understand why the richest country in the history of the world cannot provide decent paying jobs and adequate public services for all its people.

4. Developing and Spreading a Common Agenda: Such an educational process also leads naturally to testing and sharing a common agenda to reverse runaway inequality. Such an agenda, in the form of a petition, can serve as an educational tool, and, if it catches on, a way to shift the public debate towards a social-democratic agenda. (See here for national polling results on how young people reacted to such an agenda.)

Learning from the Populists of the late 19th Century

Over a century ago, small farmers, black and white, in the Midwest and South organized a potent mass movement to challenge the power of Wall Street. They called for cooperative enterprises, public banks, public ownership of railroads and telegraph, a progressive income tax and many other limits on corporate power. Their agenda led to many state and nation reforms as well as paving the way for the New Deal and its tight controls on Wall Street.

“Building a fairer and more just society will require a massive educational movement. As the Populists taught us, it can be done.”

The key to their organizational successes was education. They fielded 6,000 educators to help build their chapters and spread the word in the 1880s and 1890s. Today we would need about 30,000 to do the same, given the growth of our population.

Building such a network, however, requires having faith in the power of education. It requires that we understand that runaway inequality ties us all together and can only be tackled through a broad-based common movement with a common agenda. This educational process asks us to have the confidence and courage to engage in dialogue with a wide range of people who also care about building a better society for themselves and their families.

None of this will come easy. Our silos provide us with strength. We take pride in our identities and are empowered by them. Also, it is very difficult for us to even imagine what a common movement might look like, let alone how to build one. But we can be sure of one thing: Building a fairer and more just society will require a massive educational movement. As the Populists taught us, it can be done.

(For those willing to take that leap, please join us in building the runawayinequality.org educational network. We need you. We need each other.)

Stop Crying About the Size of Government. Start Caring About Who Controls It. – Evonomics

The role of the state in the economy By David Sloan Wilson and Daron Acemoglu, By Evonomics: The Next Evolution of Economics, March 24, 2016

Excerpt

Economist Daron Acemoğlu: ” We cannot benefit from so many things we take for granted without a powerful state, but then civil society and our institutions need to be even more powerful in order to be able to control the state, particularly since a capable state in a complex society could be a formidable tool of extraction that countless politicians, bureaucrats and organized interests would want to use it for their own benefit or agenda. Put differently, trying to dominate society is in the DNA of the state, but this is no reason to belittle how much of our security, prosperity and even social development we owe to state institutions.”  http://bit.ly/2ihG22l

Full text:

In an address that I recently gave at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, I praised Friedrich Hayek as a pioneer for describing economic systems as products of cultural group selection. I also pointed out that his views require updating—unsurprising, given all that we have learned about cultural multilevel selection since he wrote. The updating is not trivial but strikes at the heart of what Hayek stands for in modern political discourse—the ideal of a free market economy unimpeded by state planning. Here is a key passage from The Fatal Conceit.

Rome gave the world the prototype of private law based on the most absolute conception of several property. The decline and final collapse of this first extended order came only after central administration in Rome increasingly displaced free endeavor. This sequence has been repeated again and again: civilization might spread, but it is not likely to advance much further, under a government that takes over the direction of daily affairs from its citizens. It would seem that no advanced civilization has yet developed without a government which saw its chief aim in the protection of private property, but that again and again the further evolution and growth to which this gave rise was halted by a ‘strong’ government. Governments strong enough to protect individuals against the violence of their fellows make possible the evolution of an increasingly complex order of spontaneous and voluntary cooperation. Sooner or later, however, they tend to abuse that power and to suppress the freedom they had earlier secured in order to enforce their own presumably greater wisdom and not to allow ‘social institutions to develop in a haphazard manner’ (to take a characteristic expression that is found under the heading ‘social engineering’ in the Fontana/Harper Dictionary of Modern Thought (1977) [Routledge edition p 32].

There you have Hayek’s portrayal of world history. No one is better qualified to provide an update than MIT economist Daron Acemoglu, author (with James A. Robinson) of the magisterial Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. I was prompted to contact him for an interview not because of his magnum opus, but because of a quirky little study of post offices and patents in 19th Century America that is available on the Social Science Research Network and came to my attention via Twitter.

DSW: Welcome, Daron, to Evonomics.com.

DA: Thank you very much David. That’s a great pleasure to be having this conversation with you.

DSW: Let’s ease into the big issues with your new study (with Jacob Moscona and James Robinson). What did you show about 19th Century America and why is it relevant to 21st Century America and the world?

DA: Let me start with some background. James and I are in the process of working on a new book, and also writing a number of papers related to it. The book, provisionally entitled Living with the Leviathan, is about the role of the state, and very much relates to the Hayek quote you started with. When is it that the state acts like an unabashed agent of some political elite, repressing society and extracting resources from it, and when is it that it works towards the public good, developing capacity, imposing and implementing fair laws, providing public services, and protecting its citizens? We touch on this issue a little bit in Why Nations Fail, but do not dig sufficiently deep. The more one investigates this issue, the more one realizes that something we pay little attention in social science is central in reality: some states just do not have the capacity to provide services, enforce laws, or guarantee security. Much of our new book is devoted to developing a historically-grounded theory of why this state capacity develops in some places and not in others (spoiler alert: we disagree with the dominant view in political science and sociology on this topic that such capacity has to be preceded by a powerful leader or political group imposing their will against other powerholders and ultimately the monopoly of violence over their society).

In any case, without making my answer even longer, the paper with Jacob is one of a series of papers we have been working on trying to make the case that state capacity does indeed matter greatly, thus justifying our investigation and theorizing on the roots of state capacity in the first place.

The context of the paper is the US in the 19th century, which is often viewed as a society with a weak state. This is not entirely untrue. But the weakness of the US federal state is often exaggerated. What’s worse is that from this observation of state weakness, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that it was the weakness of the US state that laid the foundations of economic growth. We wanted to critically investigate this issue. This little paper starts by noting that the U.S. Postal Service, which was the largest federal agency and employer at the time, was playing a pivotal role not only in connecting the country, but bringing a range of services to distant corners of the United States. It’s also a symbol of the presence of the federal state. All of this made us wonder whether counties that got the post office became more likely to innovate and patent. The empirical evidence we present strongly supports this hypothesis: the opening of a new post office is associated with a significant increase in patenting in the county. We cannot categorically rule out other factors leading both to the introduction of new post offices and a simultaneous pickup in patenting in some counties, but our evidence suggests that this is unlikely to be driven by any obvious omitted factors or reverse causality. So what we are finding is a suggestive piece of evidence that even in the US society with its quintessentially weak federal state, state presence may have played a defining role and innovations.

This finding is also relevant because many people, including most recently Robert Gordon in his new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, places great emphasis on technological innovations undergirding US growth, but his vision, by and large, is one of “exogenous technology,” not significantly affected by institutions or other economic variables. Our finding pushes against this view, showing that state presence, presumably because of the enforcement of property rights and the provision of public services it provides, was likely a major determinant of innovations, even in 19th-century US.

DSW: I love the quote from Tocqueville, writing in 1831, that you provide in your article: “There is an astonishing circulation of letters and newspapers among these savage woods…I do not think that in the most enlightened districts of France there is an intellectual movement either so rapid or on such a scale as in this wilderness.” Let me see if I understand your thesis correctly by breaking it into parts:

1) A large-scale society requires an infrastructure to function as a corporate unit. A post office system for a nation is like a nervous system for an organism.

2) Creating a societal-level infrastructure requires decisions made and implemented on behalf of the society as a whole. The U.S. Postal system did not and could not emerge spontaneously from individuals or sub-units of the nation acting in their narrow self-interests.

3) Only some states are structured to make decisions on behalf of the whole state. Others are structured to benefit a small group of elites at the expense of the rest of the state. This is the distinction that you make between inclusive and extractive societies in Why Nations Fail.

Does this accurately represent your thesis?

DA: Yes. This is part of our argument, but there is a little bit more to it. The post office is also a marker for the presence of the state more broadly. If a place is capable of housing a post office, it means that it has some basic level of law enforcement and protection, and it is on the radar screen to be monitored and regulated by the federal government (even if that monitoring and regulation is quite light for much of the 19th century). In other words, it is likely to be enjoying all of the things that most modern states provide and we take for granted.

Some think that human cooperation can develop in a spontaneous way (Hayek comes close to this at times), or because cooperation creates an edge, the forces towards the evolution of a psychology of group cooperation are going to ensure that tribes, villages or even bigger polities can develop a sophisticated order without the state. The famous book by Robert Ellickson, Order without Law, claims that the complex relations between farmers and ranchers in Shasta County, California happens not thanks to the law, but without any reference to the law, instead relying on informal norms that have evolved over time. This may well be true, but is not the general pattern of what happens without law and the state playing the role of conflict resolution and law enforcement in much of the world. In Why Nations Fail, we explain why Somalia is so dysfunctional, linking this to the almost complete absence of conflict resolution from the state. Even small disputes in Somalia can spiral into feuds or even clan warfare because there is no central authority to resolve these conflicts. The one big difference between Somalia and Shasta County is, of course, that in the former there really isn’t the state, whereas everything that happens in Shasta County happens under the shadow of the state. For example, if a group of ranchers decide that these informal social norms aren’t working for them and take up guns and shoot some of the farmers, they know that it will be the US marshals coming after them.

As a general rule, and this is consistent with the Hayek quote you started with, no civilization has flourished economically, and I would also say socially, without a state powerful enough to provide security, property rights protection, dispute resolution and some amount of public goods to its citizens. It is also the case, and this is something we emphasize a lot throughout Why Nations Fail, that most states throughout history and even today serve the interests of the political elite and are part of their economic problems, not their solution. But this is not because the state is unnecessary or evil, but because of who controls it and what capacities it has invested in and developed.

We are trying to push this perspective to shift the debate from one of whether the state is doing too little or too much in general, to one of how it is that we can get the best out of the state. The answer is fundamentally a political one. We cannot benefit from so many things we take for granted without a powerful state, but then civil society and our institutions need to be even more powerful in order to be able to control the state, particularly since a capable state in a complex society could be a formidable tool of extraction that countless politicians, bureaucrats and organized interests would want to use it for their own benefit or agenda. Put differently, trying to dominate society is in the DNA of the state, but this is no reason to belittle how much of our security, prosperity and even social development we owe to state institutions.

DSW: Right! One contribution of evolutionary biology is to push this scenario back to the dawn of our species. Most primate societies are despotic and extractive in human terms. Our distant ancestors managed to control the ambitions of its most powerful members, or to establish a system of reverse dominance, as Christopher Boehm puts it in his books (1,2). Just about everything distinctively human flows from the benefits of inclusiveness that reverse dominance brings. Then the same eternal conflict between within- and between-group selection took place among human societies during the long sweep of human history, leading to the relatively cooperative mega-societies of today, as recounted by Peter Turchin in his new book Ultrasociety. Before continuing, I wonder if you could comment on what the long evolutionary view and an explicit theory of genetic and cultural multilevel selection adds to your own background in historical and institutional economics.

DA: Great question. I wish I knew the answer fully.

In any case, here is a, perhaps unusual, view.

I don’t think we can understand modern society purely or even largely appealing to its evolutionary roots in the savanna or in the context of small-scale societies. This is because what defines a lot of modern society is state-society relations, and the state, as we understand and conceive it today, did not exist during the long duree of our evolution. Let me try to explain this with an example. Imagine that somebody you trust quite a bit, say your uncle, comes to you and says that he wants to see your bank accounts and all of your transactions going back four years. You would probably balk at the idea. However much you used to trust the guy, there must be something fishy if he wants to see so much of your bank account and private life. But imagine the state, in the form of the tax authority, does this. You would probably not be happy about it, but you would consent, and your trust in the institutions of the state as a whole would not be dented. In Denmark, where trust in the state is even more ingrained, this information is available to the state without even having to ask you. Why am I proposing this thought experiment? Because it illustrates that we have much more trust in the institutions of the state than even the people who are very close to us (and of course this is absolutely not true if you live in much of sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, the Andean, or much of South Asia for a good reason, this trust in state institutions has, understandably, not formed in these societies).

I don’t think this is easy to understand with the existing theories of evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology or even group selection. Though it’s not my place to comment on evolutionary biology and psychology as an outsider, since you’ve asked me to do it, let me add one other thing before wrapping this up. I have read and enjoyed Christopher Boehm’s work. But, to me, it poses a puzzle rather than fitting nicely into our body of understanding. How can we be simultaneously biologically so well prepared for being cooperative and egalitarian, while at the same time we are also clearly so well prepared to be despotic, hierarchical, murderous and “extractive” (borrowing a term from Why Nations Fail)?

One possibility, which I find very plausible and unifying, is that what evolution has endowed us with is a set of modules. Then it’s a great survival strategy to be able to tap into different modules and go with it. Some of those modules emphasize egalitarian cooperative behavior, while some others emphasize taking orders in a hierarchical situation, especially when that hierarchy is maintained by force or threat of force; some others emphasize the ability to be despotic and extractive, and yet others tap into hatred, murderousness and violence. Being one of these things is probably inferior to having a flexible set of modules for being able to adapt to one’s environment. If you are in a small-scale society run by a despot, it’s probably better for you and your family to be obedient and respectful than egalitarian and cooperative by nature. If you happen to be in the inner circle of the despot, then a natural proclivity to giving orders and exploiting others would come in handy. But if you are in an egalitarian situation without a clear hierarchy backed up by force, then all we know from your work and others on group selection being cooperative yourself would be quite beneficial when you take all of the payoff consequences into account.

This is probably not entirely contradictory to some parts of modern thinking in evolutionary social science, but I haven’t quite seen it expressed in this way and its consequences drawn out. The most important consequence for me is that we really have to find the right institutions and social relations to bring out the right modules in humans.

DSW: Thanks for these candid thoughts. I think that your vision comes close to dual inheritance theory, as expounded by Richerson & Boyd, Henrich, Turchin, Jablonka & Lamb, Paul, and others. The genetically evolved mind provides a large number of building blocks for cultural evolution to act upon, although the building blocks are not quite the “modules” imagined by some evolutionary psychologists (interested readers should go here for more on that topic). The reverse dominance mode of social organization is an addition to the much more ancient dominance mode that predates our species, so we are primed to operate in either mode, as you say. Insofar as every culture is an independent evolutionary experiment, building blocks get assembled in different ways. The products of cultural evolution include institutions, norms, etc., that are essential for the operation of any given society and that replicate through non-genetic means. Most of this work has taken place only during the last two decades so it’s new for everyone.

Returning to the focus of our interview, if I understand you correctly, a leviathan worth wanting must possess the following features. First, it must be strong enough to create capacity. Second, it must be inclusive enough to create capacity for the common good. Even when these conditions are met, however, there is the question of how to create capacity in a large-scale social system that is very complex. Centralized planning won’t work. Totally unregulated markets won’t work. So what will work?

DA: Yes, you have hit the nail on its head. It must be strong enough to create capacity, but inclusive enough so that these are the capacities to protect the citizens, public goods, enforce laws in a way consistent with the rule of law, and undertake the right type of regulation. And this requires inclusivity, and strong controls on the state, less it will go in its usual business of dominating, repressing and exploiting others. That’s exactly why James Robinson’s and my new work departs sharply from the consensus in political science and sociology about the importance of first building a leviathan with an unrivaled monopoly of violence. Once you do that, you have the card stuck against going in an inclusive direction: not much of the resistance to the state is left in society, and then it will be quite difficult to build a powerful civil society, accountability and checks against the state and its agents.

DSW: I’m reminded of two of my favorite examples in Why Nations Fail. Power had to be wrested from the monarchy before England could become an inclusive society. And the first British colonies in America were forced to become inclusive (unlike the Spanish colonies in Central and South America) because the lower ranking members had the option of leaving and becoming pioneers.

DA: My answer to your question of how to create capacity very much builds on this observation. It is not an engineering problem. That’s why when it is approached like an engineering problem, like something we can design and impose on society as it was done in Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan, it doesn’t work, for powerful segments of society will resist it. So yes indeed, central planning doesn’t work, but not only for the reasons that Hayek emphasized (that a central plan can never aggregate the information, wisdom and creativity of society). It doesn’t work also, and perhaps more majorly, because the central plan also creates a particular distribution of political power in society, based on command and control. Once you have that, you have already created a platform for exactly the worst type of state-society relations, and everything else will unravel following it. The same thing can be said for unregulated markets, because sometimes they concentrate power in the hands of a few businesses and families that start with political power, privilege or the right sort of assets. But the healthiest sort of regulation doesn’t come from above, because some bureaucrat deems it necessary, but it comes from the bottom-up demands of regular people for protection or for the right sort of level playing field for them to go ahead in life.

This is why, I would say, there’s a huge difference between our view and the classic interventionist views (for example, associated with economists such as Keynes, and more recently Krugman or Stiglitz). For every intervention that is on the table, one should do a cost-benefit analysis not just in terms of economic gains and losses, but in terms of political factors. Does this make it more likely that the control of civil society, extant social norms and institutions over politicians, bureaucrats, security services, and elites will be eroded or even perhaps irreparably damaged? This is perhaps a conservative test, but a test I would never want to give up for temporary, short-lived economic gain.

DSW: This is very much in keeping with multilevel selection theory and the concept of major evolutionary transitions, which requires the suppression of disruptive self-serving behaviors within a group before the group can function as an adaptive unit. This is true at any scale, from a hunter-gatherer group to regulation at the planetary level. Which current nations are doing the best job as benign leviathans in your opinion? Also, can the same analysis be performed at the scale of the 50 states within the Unites States? I have mind graphs from The Spirit Level, a book that deserves to be read alongside Why Nations Fail and Ultrasociety, in which their analysis of states within the US conforms well to their analysis of nations. Could the scale of analysis be pushed down even further?

DA: I would point to Scandinavia and Canada as powerful leviathans that are nonetheless subject to the control of society, norms and institutions.

And yes, absolutely, this analysis can be applied to states and even lower-level polities. In fact, a lot of services today in the United States, in much of Latin America or India are provided at the municipality level, and the politicians that citizens and voters have to control are first and foremost their mayors and local politicians and policemen. A lot of my research, and research by other political economists today, is about these subnational-level politics and economics.

But this decentralization, though generally useful and empowering for society, also has a dark side. It can be a way of weakening the state or maintaining the weakness of the central state. If you look at the United States, for instance, many of its most salient problems are a consequence of two centuries of state weakness, and by that I mean both weakness of the federal state and also weakness of all state institutions that individuals interact with. So as a result, you still have extreme poverty, very low quality education and low social mobility in much of US South today. As a result, you have wanton police brutality against our African-American citizens, which the most powerful president on earth can do nothing about. Of course, one has to understand why that state weakness emerged and persisted in the United States, and some of it was a bargain that handsomely paid off in other respects. But today we are also paying the price for that state weakness.

DSW: I think of this as the cultural equivalent of multi-cellularity. A multi-cellular organism is composed of trillions of cells that must be healthy at the cellular and organ levels for the multi-cellular organism to be healthy. In the same way, for a large-scale human society to work well, it must be organized as smaller-scale units that work well and are properly coordinated for the benefit of the whole. This is a daunting task that has been accomplished largely by unintended cultural group selection in the past, as Hayek was wise to note. But it needs to take place through intentional cultural evolution now more than ever before, realizing that this doesn’t mean command and control. I think that Vincent and Elinor Ostrom were reaching in the same direction with their concept of polycentric governance.

So, you’ve distinguished your position from both the command and control perspective associated with Keynes and the unregulated market perspective associated with Hayek. Is there a third way and is there any hope of implementing it in the current American political environment (you’ve already pointed to Canada and the Scandinavian nations as exemplars)?

DA: I like this analogy to a multi-cellular organism. But there are several key differences. First, it’s rare for a higher-level cell to pursue a strategy of total exploitation that will entirely decimate the lower-level cells. But it happens in the context of human relations. Think of Caribbean plantation colonies, such as Barbados or Haiti, in the 17th and 18th centuries. These places were some of the richest in the world, but more than 80% of the population, the slaves producing sugar and other valuable commodities, lived under such harsh conditions and with such low incomes that a good share of them died before the age of 30. This is by no means an unrepresentative picture of extractive institutions when they are unchecked. Second, our lives cannot be made sense of without the institutional framework under which we live — which might be fairly well-functioning institutions like the ones we are used to in the Western world or institutions supporting extraction such as those in the Caribbean plantation colonies. Third, I think these institutions are also central for making sure that the smaller-scale units work well, are coordinated and their information and inputs are transmitted to the higher levels. We are the only life form on earth whose existence is so much intertwined with institutions and how they function.

This also gives me an opening for answering your question. I think there’s always a third way. The state and its institutions are some of our most sophisticated creations, and some of our most dangerous ones. Many things we depend on today, and many more we take for granted such as law and security, emanate from these state institutions, but also the history of the state is the history of murder, genocide, war, repression and exploitation. The third way is, broadly and loosely speaking, any arrangement that controls these abominable aspects of the state while still trying to benefit from the wonderful things that it has made possible. James and I call it “inclusive state”, but it’s an ideal type, not a reality. All states have their dark side, even the Canadian and Scandinavian ones I mentioned as exemplars of better practice in this respect, and as I have already noted as well, it’s always a work in progress.

Is it possible to make progress towards this inclusive state in the United States at the moment? I would’ve said yes 15 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, but today I do feel more pessimistic than ever about the United States and about the world. Of course, I’m not surprised that there is a huge amount of discontent among some segments of the voting public, and some of this is entangled with fear from and hatred against immigrants and minorities. But the extent of this hatred has been a shock to me. How accommodating our general discourse has been to this adds insult to injury. It’s not only that. The polarization and gridlock in Washington cannot but make one pessimistic about the prospect of any positive institutional change. When the political system doesn’t work, sometimes protests and pressure from civil society force it to work. But we have seen in the United States that that doesn’t go anywhere either. (And the situation in the world at large makes it easy to be pessimistic about everything political today).

Of course, we should not lose hope, and in the past, US institutions have shown an amazing ability to self-reform and change, for example, on the issue of slavery, then during the progressive era, then in the context of machine politics and corruption in the cities, and then for the civil rights struggle. Perhaps it can happen again. Perhaps we can still hope.

DSW: Perhaps a clear theoretical framework, which I think is emerging thanks to people such as you and your colleagues, will contribute to solutions. This has been a great conversation and best of luck with your endeavors.

DA: Thank you very much David. It’s been both fun and instructive for me. I was just getting used to this conversation. I will miss it. Until next time.

 

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After 75 years of progress, was last week a hinge in history?

By Lawrence Summers, washingtonpost.com, June 4, 2017

full text

excerpt:

…It is possible that last week will be remembered as a hinge in history — a moment when the United States and the world started moving on a path away from the peace, prosperity and stability that have defined the past 75 years.

For all that has gone wrong in the past three-quarters of a century, this period has witnessed more human betterment than any time. The rate of fatalities in war has steadily declined, while growing integration has driven global growth and improvement in life expectancy and living standards. Progress is too slow, and not well enough shared, but Americans have never lived so well. This has been driven by remarkable developments in human thought, especially in science and technology, and a relatively stable global order that has been underwritten by the United States.

Will these trends continue? …No longer. We may have our first post-rational president. Trump has rejected the view of modern science on global climate change, embraced economic forecasts and trade theories outside the range of reputable opinion, and relied on the idea of alternative facts rather than evidence-based truth.

Even for conservative statesmen such as Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Henry Kissinger, the idea of a community of nations has been a commonplace… H.R McMaster, national security adviser, and Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, who have been held out as the president’s most rational, globally minded advisers… have taken to the Wall Street Journal to proclaim that “the world is not a global community” and advanced a theory of international relations not unlike the one that animated the British and French at Versailles at the end of World War I. On this view, the objective of international negotiation is not to establish a stable, peaceful system or to seek cooperation or to advance universal values through compromise, they wrote, but to strike better deals in “an arena where nations, nongovernmental organizations, and businesses compete for advantage.”

In service of this theory, the president in the past two weeks renounced any claim to U.S. moral leadership by failing to convincingly reaffirm traditional U.S. security commitments to NATO and abandoning participation in the Paris global climate agreement. The latter is probably our most consequential error since the Iraq War and may well be felt even longer….

It is essential that leaders in U.S. society signal clearly their disapproval of the course the administration is taking. History will judge poorly business leaders who retain positions on Trump administration advisory boards because they hope to be in a position to cut favorable deals…

What is to be done? The U.S. president is not America. The world will be watching to see whether Trump’s words and deeds represent an irrevocable turn in the nation’s approach to the world or a temporary aberration. The more that leading figures in U.S. society can signal their continuing commitment to reason, to common purpose with other nations, and to addressing global challenges, the more the damage can be contained. And, of course, Congress has a central role to play in preventing dangerous and destabilizing steps.

 

Read more on this issue:

Dana Milbank: Trump, the caricature of the ugly American, demeans us all

Trump just betrayed the world. Now the world will fight back.

The Post’s View: Trump turns his back on the world

Laurence H. Tribe: Trump must be impeached. Here’s why.

Eugene Robinson: Trump is abdicating all the country’s moral power

The Post’s View: Trump’s moral blind spot

Lawrence Summers is a professor at and past president of Harvard University. He was treasury secretary from 1999 to 2001 and an economic adviser to President Barack Obama from 2009 through 2010.

Follow @LHSummers