Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Marxism intellectually respectable again

Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist historian (he is over 90 years old, but lucid) is interviewed by the BBC, and this is notable: "It is certainly greatest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s. As Marx and Schumpeter foresaw, globalization not only destroys heritage, but is incredibly unstable. It operates through a series of crises.
There’ll be a much greater role for the state, one way or another. We’ve already got the state as lender of last resort, we might well return to idea of the state as employer of last resort, which is what it was under FDR. It’ll be something which orients, and even directs the private economy." Also see this article in BBC, "Marx popular amid credit crunch". And then Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s note on all of it.

Discussions - 7 Comments

Excerpt from an email received from a (much younger) close friend of mine who--unlike most of her peers--is not an Obamaton:

i talked to one of my liberal friends yesterday [name deleted] and asked her what she thought of obama's spread the wealth comment. as i suspected, she was not appalled whatsoever. in fact, she said she kind of agrees with that statement. talk radio keeps going on and on about how this spread the wealth comment was going to be this dramatic shift. my generation that went to college and is either an obama supporter or independent actually agree with obamas statement.
That, it seems to me, is the crux of the matter. In recent days I've had similar conversations with old friends of mine (roughly 10 years older than this person) who used to be predictably Republican-ish but now find something intriguing about the idea of "spreading the wealth." The generation that cannot remember Reagan as anything other than a ghost from their childhood does not connect with his themes in anything like the way that those who are older than 40 (and not former hippies or committed New Dealers) do. Conservatives seem to always make the mistake of thinking that because an argument is timeless and true, it will always appear so to each succeeding generation. They forgot about who was teaching their children--or, alternatively, they whined a bit about "school choice" and moved away from the question of education because it was either boring to them or less potentially and immediately profitable. Big mistake. Conservatives need to go long in the market of ideas.

Julie, well said. But I think certain problems are institutional, or certain things present serious institutional challenges.

Consider simply the distribution of the franchise, as the regime does so widely. How many young persons voting essentially have nothing to lose? No serious taxes, no real estate, no long-term neighbors they have to deal with, no business ventures, no investment in a career, no children. How many have a mature sense of time -- e.g., how long it takes (or took one's parents or grandparents) to secure all these conditions for happiness? And that those conditions are never finally secure?

For the Obama youth legion, why shouldn't politics, like everything else they experience, be about self-expression, and emotions, and novelty, and easy gratification? Why not charge into a glorious future, especially when it has the air of coolness, and novelty, and a sense of belonging!

These adolescent desires for freedom and power (and even community) are natural, it seems. But that doesn't mean that they deserve political expression, especially when the regime and its society so consistently stoke them! Obama may exploit those desires particularly adeptly, but before him there was Clinton, and Kennedy. And after Obama there will be other Obamas. This is a long-term difficulty.

Whether young persons respect limitations in political life depends, I think, on whether they respect their own limitations. And that political predisposition depends, I think, on extrapolitical influences -- i.e., the quality of education by family and religion. If this has been good, then we can talk as citizens. If it hasn't...

JQA: You're right about the very young (18-26) but I still say they won't matter in this election very much. They never do. They're too busy worrying about growing up to matter or doing things that really don't matter (except in a negative sense) to vote in the numbers Obama hopes they will. Their turnout will be up, but not decisive.

Where it gets more worrisome is when you look at the people 27-40. There you can't really say that they have no stake in the community. They have kids, businesses, jobs, status, property. But do they have any true civic understanding? That's where I think you'll see the real shift and the real problem. I think, perhaps, people forget how truly bad the civic education of my generation is. Who were our teachers? What was the curriculum? It was one thing to resist it in good economic times . . . it's another thing now. If Ronald Reagan is the only life vest a person has in a cess pool of Liberal experience and education . . . well, it's not enough to cling to when the ship seems to be sinking.

This looks like an extension of the conversation back here.

I did not want Marx to be right about history. The ignorance of my students on that subject - on those subjects, both history AND Marx, is nearly complete. These products of the public school system have a wealth of knowledge about cultural history - they know more about 1970s television than I do or ever did - and boy, do they know about the Beatles - but do they know anything about the great ideological arguments of the last century? They do not, except inasmuch as maybe one team fighting against another - is a Fascist the same as a Nazi, Mrs. P., or is a Fascist a Communist and Stalin seems like a bad man; which was he? We must be on our third generation of ignorant educating ignorant and all children are left behind on this subject.

I know I am complaining in the wrong place, but the work of the Ashbrook Center's teacher program is like rain on the ocean.

Listening to Hobsbawm - break my heart again - he says there is no left; businessmen have absorbed Marx and I think he's right. Planned capitalism is not capitalism at all, but we will find some mix of economic systems that works or doesn't and his idea of "the Right" I think is not mine, unless we are speaking of some carousel of political thought.

I have to go write more about Herbert Hoover, who is absolutely positive and certain in a similarly confusing way about government control of capitalism as a very good thing. For him private ownership is right and good, but if you profit more than he thinks you ought, government should catch you up, and say "Go, Businessman, and sin no more." Will every century begin again with Progressive Utopianism?

I was teaching today out of Orwell on political rhetoric. The modern echo is depressing. Between that, this and the election tomorrow, I wish I knew a place to hide. I should like to become a somnambulist, I think. Below, Captcha mocks me with "Euphemia - lation".

I think people are reading too much into the failure of Obama's "spread the wealth around" comment to devastate his campaign. Obama's promise to give a whole bunch of goodies (including tax cuts)to almost everybody based on a moderate tax increase on almost nobody would have been plausible in the past also. A similar promise helped elect Clinton in 1992. It probably would have been plausible in 2004 but Kerry had such a long record of voting to raise so many taxes that nobody believed Kerry when he promised not to raise middle class taxes.

The Republican advantage on taxes didn't come from a public aversion to taxes on the wealthy per se. The advantage came from public assent to two propositions:

1. Cutting taxes on high earners, investment, and business would lead to economic growth, low unemployment and broadly rising living standards.

2. The nonwealthy would also get sizable tax cuts so that tax cutting creates a broad group of direct beneficiaries.

The Republican edge from proposition 1 has collapsed because of circumstance. Bush cut the capital gains tax but a large portion of the working population still saw their living standards stagnate, and that was when the economy was growing. Now we are almost certainly in a recession and things only seem like they will get worse from here. Whatever the merits of proposition 1 (and I basically agree with it), its a tough year to sell it whether you call it trickle down economics or a rising tide lifts all boats. McCain threw away his advantage on proposition 2 because he crafted a tax cut plan geared toward business. Most people would be benefit indirectly if at all. I think most folks would benefit eventually but I don't blame people for being sceptical and wanting something tangible.

The end result of all this is that Obama - "spread the wealth" and all - has fought McCain to draw or better on the tax issue. Which is an issue the smaller government, lower tax party has to win in order to be competetive.

For him private ownership is right and good, but if you profit more than he thinks you ought, government should catch you up, and say "Go, Businessman, and sin no more."

Back in colonial days it was the mob that punished the businessman. The "moral economy" lives on through the government now, I suppose. So sad.

Matt, the mob, the purchasers in the marketplace of the nation, can still punish businessmen. They can do so either through the markets or through the courts.

The real problem of the campaign that I was complaining about was that "spread the wealth around" was an idea that resonated with so many Americans. I think Matt likes it, for example.

I ought to be rejoicing. My husband's business is that of financial planning and his expertise was not especially necessary while the good times rolled. He began after the Carter era, when sheltering wealth became very important. It will be important again, if "spreading the wealth around" is what Obama really intends. Such people claim to intend to soak the rich, but always leave loopholes for themselves and their friends, which people like my husband and try to turn to good use for friends and clients.

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