liberal smugness and the "Bowling Green Massacre"

I was featured in the most recent episode of David Sehat's podcast Mindpop. The subject of our conversation was ostensibly "Has identity politics wrecked liberalism?" But in passing I did make another point: that liberals are frequently every bit as pompous, irritating and smug as the conservative caricatures make them out to be. This is not a new position for me. But it's one that has taken up more and more of my mental space since the Trump election had laid bare the liberal disinterest in explaining or justifying left-of-center ideas to anyone who doesn't already share them.

A case in point is this weekend's reaction to Kellyanne Conway's reference to the "Bowling Green Massacre," an event that never actually occurred. In response to this gaffe, liberals have unleashed a flood of smug self-congratulatory jokes on the subject. One can find a candlelight vigil for the victims of this nonexistent tragedy, a Facebook survivor check-in page, a fake folk song memorializing the event and a whole host of oh-so-clever tweets. Personally, I would prefer that liberals put their energy into crafting messages that could make their message clearer and more convincing so that they might resonate with the broad swaths of the country. But that apparently would not scratch the right itch.

This is your fault. Source: salon.com

This is your fault. Source: salon.com

Liberals have two primary modes of communication: outraged moralistic accusations and funny, sarcastic putdowns. Both do little more than preach to the choir. Neither will ever convince anyone to listen to a new point of view or to change his/her mind about a political issue. We've been on this road for a long time and it's only gotten us to a place that we don't particularly like. It's time to get off of it.

"When they go low," Michelle Obama said, "we go high." I'm not seeing it. Do better.

liberalism and identity politics

On Friday Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States. Though it has been two months since the election in which he defeated sure-thing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, left-of-center Americans have had a hard time accommodating themselves to the new reality. Liberals, progressives and Democrats have been engaged in trying to explain Clinton's unprecedented failure. What this process of trying to understand the situation looks like, for the most part, is the various factions with the coalition pointing fingers at one another. The typical subject of this debate, such as it is, are two phenomena which are related but, in my view, often confused: national electoral strategy and the intrinsic value of various political and philosophical commitments. Untangling these two strands would go a long way toward clarifying what liberalism means in this Trumpian moment.

[more after the jump]

Read More

bread and circuses

new University of Texas football coach Tom Herman. Source: hookem.com

new University of Texas football coach Tom Herman. Source: hookem.com

People often say that college football is "a multi-million dollar industry." I don't pay much attention to the sport, so I only understand that statement as a truism or an abstraction. But this piece gave me a really good sense of how that really works and what it really means. It is on a blog, published by the Austin American-Statesman, related to University of Texas (UT) football. (Full disclosure: I've written a couple of book reviews for the paper. It was over ten years ago and the one person who might, in the unlikeliest of circumstances, even remember me is no longer there.) The article concerns Tom Herman, the new Texas football coach and its focus is on his assessment of the UT facilities. In Herman's view, they are not up to par. It seems the athletic department needs to spend more money in order to keep up with the college football Joneses. "UT is behind," in the coach's assessment, "but not by much. 'Nothing that a multi-million dollar facelift can't fix.' Herman said."

Though Herman needs more, I'm amazed just by what is already there. The coach already has, for instance, a chief of staff, just like the one that the President of the United States has to run the White House. But it is not enough. The football team, he believes, lacks its own full-time nutritionist and needs new graphics in the hallways. Anyplace he can spend money, it appears, he will. The whole thing strikes me as rather decadent. If the players aren't already drinking their Gatorade out of gold-plated goblets, Tom Herman will be making sure that they are soon.

in memoriam: Joyce Appleby

It was recently reported that Joyce Appleby died a little over a week ago. Appleby was a well-respected historian of English and American history. Like anyone who works on US political economy, I was impressed with and influenced by her work. But I truly appreciate her for the role that she played in getting my book published.

[more after the jump]

Read More

Technology Will Not Save Us: The Decline of Manufacturing Jobs and the Rise of the Sharing Economy

The results of the recent U.S. presidential election delivered a jolt to the nation’s punditry, particularly its data-driven segment. The pollsters and analysts had all but assured the narrow victory of Democrat Hillary Clinton, but the winner was the unorthodox Republican Donald Trump. As soon as Trump’s election was certain, the statisticians whose models had not predicted this turn of events began to explain how it had happened. The most important demographic group, it appeared, was one that Trump had courted and Clinton had ignored: the white working class. Though Trump voters did not necessarily have below-average incomes, many of them had less education than the electorate at large. Jim Tankersley of the Washington Post echoed the thoughts of many journalists. “Whites without a college degree—men and women—made up a third of the 2016 electorate,” he wrote in the aftermath of the election. “Trump won them by 39 percentage points…[and] they were the foundation of his victories across the Rust Belt, including a blowout win in Ohio and stunning upsets in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.” The dean of the statistician pundits, Nate Silver, summarized this conclusion by saying that “it appears as though educational levels are the critical factor in predicting shifts in the vote between 2012 and 2016.”

When There Are No Jobs

Clearly, Trump tapped into the economic and cultural resentments of this group. There are historical and cultural reasons why it was specifically white working-class voters who provided Trump’s margin of victory: African Americans have traditionally voted Democratic and Trump alienated Hispanic Americans with his anti-immigration platform. But the American working class, writ large, has every reason to want a drastic change in nearly every major trend in American economic life. In the United States, middle class wages have stagnated since the 1970s; those earning the median wage have seen their real pay increase by only 6% over the last thirty-five years. (Definitions and categories regarding class in the United States vary significantly from one source to another, so one person’s “middle class” might be another’s “working class.” In general, the members of the group considered here are neither living in poverty nor working in what might be called “professional” positions.) Even as the economy has grown in this period, wages have not. Jennifer Kaiser, an Indianapolis legal assistant interviewed by National Public Radio, explained her situation this way. “I get a raise, but every year it's lower and lower. The past few years, it hasn't even been a raise that's comparable to the cost of living.” The overall result is a slow but consistent downward pressure on that standard, accompanied by a persistent anxiety that a sudden financial jolt—such as an illness, accident, job loss, or the need to take in a parent or adult child—can completely shatter a person’s life.

[more after the jump]

Read More