Monday, September 17, 2012

Well, it has been more than a year . . .

And, what is wrong with economics is still wrong. And, what is wrong with our politics is still wrong. We've had a global financial crisis, and five years later, instead of effective reform, we are looking at . . . a global financial crisis. What's wrong with this picture?

1 comment:

  1. Will G-R (and Rich P)

    I think liberalism in its various threads has often had a deep ambivalence about the common people, their wants and welfare. What common people want is a society and a political economy that work for them, providing a modicum of security. They are not much interested in the details, the how or the architecture.

    What liberalism often wants to offer is a pious idealism: a notion that a public policy of virtuous intent, high principal and sincere effort is best. This is the liberalism that thinks education is the answer to increasing income and wealth inequality. This is the liberalism that thinks emulating an ideal of perfectly competitive markets will make capitalism efficient and fair. This is the liberalism that thinks "free and fair elections" solve social problems and reforming the Electoral College is an urgent problem of American democracy.

    This kind of political piety can get along quite well with a conservatism of sound money and the rule of law, because they both reflect common faith in moral causality and that a just world rewards virtue, individual and personal or collective and public. In casual discussion of economics, the virtues of productivity growth or a trade surplus will be undoubted, just as the public debt will be regarded as a danger.

    This is not the only possibility for liberalism: there is also the possibility of actually acting competently to solve problems, to develop cooperation for the common good and general welfare, while recognizing that different elements in society have legitimate but conflicting interests. This is the progressive politics of technocratic regulation and civic or national development and looks to construct powerful institutions and to accomplish great tasks. This liberalism can have cordial relationships with certain kinds of conservatism -- paternalism, civic boosterism, the machine politics of patronage and honest graft or national greatness, say -- but is likely to find itself in conflict with the reactionary conservatism of vested interests, particularly predatory ones.

    Both of these tendencies in liberalism -- the abstract idealism and the institution building -- make critical accommodations with the natural conservatism of wealth and business that shape the liberal program of a particular time and place and make it politically possible. In this, liberalism acts as the better angel of elite conscience and aspiration to persuade the powerful to permit and institute necessary change and adaptive reform, or in more benighted periods, simply to protect a level of advocacy and critique against reactionary authority and its expedients.

    With the common mass of humanity, liberalism has had a more ambivalent relationship, in part because of its accommodations with self-interested wealth and hierarchy and in part because the common mass of humanity so frequently falls short of the wishes of the liberal imagination for common reason, justice, human initiative and autonomy. Still, it is popular support -- indeed, demonstrations of mass support -- that have often been crucial for the success of liberal revolutions, even if liberals want to deliver principles, not bread, in part because of their accommodations with established elites and sometimes because, in the enthusiasm of liberals for ideal principles of social design, there is a neglect of the practical complexity of social structural engineering, which may need to be remedied by co-opting established elites where some can be found with the necessary practical understanding*, again at the expense of accommodation.

    (*This is a tricky business, because the reactionary party, in the main, almost by definition, is the Party of Stupid. Nevertheless, I think a narrative of historical liberal success neglects the truth, if it doesn't recognize reliance on key figures, who are political conservatives. Liberalism needed Alexander Hamilton and Robert Peel, Disraeli and even Bismarck. Progressivism (the historic American movement) was dominated by conservatives.)