My own, I mean. I sort of thought I’d settled into a mid-life Canadian-mainstream political rut, but events have been battering me sideways.
A recent political trauma occurred in January at the Churchill Club WikiLeaks event. The featured speaker was Daniel Ellsberg, a an old lion of the left, and boy was he ever convincing. I realized that I was listening to someone apparently positioned several leagues left of where I see myself, and admiring every word. Just one example: his pointing out, in terms that made anger unavoidable, the Obama administration’s refusal to prosecute anyone for the widespread torture conducted by its predecessors (both direct and via extraordinary rendition, which is what they call it when you hand your political prisoners over to Arab autocracies for them to do the dirty); and simultaneous willingness to unleash the Justice Department against whistleblowers and leakers.
Sources · I could go on and on; but in the spirit of the Web, I’ll offer a set of links stretching back over the last year or so that have made me wonder if the “middle of the road” isn’t actually veering into some awful chasm to the right. These are long-form, but the issues are big and require it, so I recommend pulling up a comfy chair with a big screen on your lap. (If I may dip into geek-speak, the tl;dr version is “You haven’t thought enough about these issues to be taken seriously.” Sorry.)
John Quiggin, Aussie Economics professor and blogger: After the dead horses. Excerpt: “The unifying feature of the right in the 21st century is not so much ideology as an embrace of ignorance...”
Martin Wolf, Financial Times columnist: The political genius of supply-side economics. Excerpt: “Supply-side economics liberated conservatives from any need to insist on fiscal rectitude and balanced budgets.”
Matthew Yglesias, political blogger: The Very Big Picture. Excerpt: “...people are step-by-step liberating themselves not from market capitalism as a means of obtaining consumer goods but from wage slavery in the worker-capitalist relationship.”
Robert H. Frank, Economics professor at Cornell: A Remedy Worse than the Disease: Why Higher Taxes Are Better than Pay Caps (PDF). Excerpt: “Top earners would also experience no decline in life satisfaction if a change in tax policy curtailed the rate of growth of their absolute consumption.”
John Hempton, Aussie fund manager & blogger: Lessons in my laundry — part 1. Excerpt: “A large low-wage group make the (very rich) lifestyles of the American elite possible.”
Economist blogger “J.M.”: Class Consciousness Comes to Davos. Excerpt: “There is a growing realisation that the pain is disproportionately hitting the bottom of society, an acknowledgement that it is not going to change soon—and, perhaps more selfishly, a worry that it will result in a backlash of some sort.”
Matt Stoller, US political operative/writer: The Corroded Corruption at the Heart of Moving to the Center. Excerpt: “It's a sick, perverted, corroded system ... it's bipartisan and flows through the leadership of both parties.”
Conclusions? · Don’t have one. When I look at the “official” left, as represented here in Canada by the NDP, and in the US by California Democrats, I find it kind of boring and old-fashioned.
I certainly don’t believe that increased public spending is the cure for all problems, and anyone who doesn’t believe in the power of free markets in promoting general well-being is just wilfully ignorant of history. And given the chance to make buckets of money without breaking any laws or having to do boring work, I’d jump as fast as the next person.
Free-market ideas suffer under the handicap that their promoters are so often fat cats who’ve thereby grown rich. And you don’t have to be all that paranoid to believe that there’s a cosy network of incestuous back-scratching that includes senior politicians, businesspeople, and media voices.
There are grounds for optimism. For my first few decades on this planet, it was assumed that that Curtain really was Iron and those stuck behind it were doomed to grey Soviet impoverishment forever. Wrong. For several further decades, the assumption has remained that being an Arab meant that you suffered under a corrupt immoveable autocracy. Maybe wrong again.
Ideologies matter. We need one that respects the market and isn’t afraid of talking about class interests and is fiercely intolerant of all forms of civic corruption.