Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Theory and Practice

The parallel discussions about more well-off voters potentially embracing more economic populism and why sensible liberals have become wildly unhinged are fairly interesting.

The 90s were a time of neoliberal ascendence in the public discourse. Discussions of economic policies became entirely framed in the language of Tom Friedman, a legacy which is largely still with us. But what have we achieved?

The move towards privatization in the federal government has just caused the federal government to turn into a massive patronage machine, with no decent oversight of federal contracts and a lack of genuine competitive bidding. "Free trade" has done nothing either for most of the people of Mexico - where inequality has risen - nor the people of this country - where median wages have been stagnant and inequality continues to rise. Telecom and energy deregulation have pretty much had the impacts that critics argued at the time.

In other words, almost the entire economic package of sensible liberals in the 80s and 90s has been for shit, at best benefitting few and not hurting too many people. Part of the reason is that many of these things were con games. "Free trade" isn't really free trade - much of trade is still not free, and much of what is put under its banner has nothing to do with it - telecom and energy deregulation aren't really deregulation, but re-regulation benefitting existing interests, etc... The devil is in the details in these things, and the most dedicated proponents of such things in the popular press are happy to stop at the bumper sticker - Free Trade! Free Market! - without bothering to understand that the policies are actually much more complicated than that.

That's the policy side. The politics side has to do with a a Democratic party in which all the leading Democrats are forever running against their own party. Triangulation can work for one man, but when every leading Democrat is constantly falling all over themselves (yes, this is exaggeration) to distance themselves from Those Damn Dirty Democrats, you have a party which is without foundation and where capitulation is confused with bipartisanship.

Oh, and then there's the media...