The Inevitable Boringness of Liberalism


I was waiting for my comment to escape the censors moderating queue at Pogie and PW’s place earlier today (sure, it was from having three links in the comment, uh huh), and was looking at the significance of a few of the piece’s elements.

First off, James Conner hits a home run with his analysis of Pogie’s piece:

“Saying this is one of your best posts probably is being stingy with praise.”

Of course, my comment was all about enticing democrats that have a hard time thinking outside the box, particularly when they are down and out, to cast their policy nets a bit wider. When I looked at the photo accompanying the post — of a beggar boy holding his bowl out for morsels — I first thought that this is how the dem faithful go about asking their politicians for attention to their pet issues. Of course, a closer look showed it to be a reconstruction of some Dickens novel character or another.

It’s not that I’m not supportive of raising the minimum wage, I am all for doing whatever it takes to address poverty in America (our band performed at a benefit concert this weekend for a women’s shelter in Kalispell, for instance, at our own expense). But when Dems reduce themselves to begging for table scraps at a time when the political response of an “opposition” party demands to be more than just maintaining the status quo (with “tweaks”), I get a bit skranky.

But what do I expect from a political party that is beaten down so far it can’t even look to the past, is to see how democrats once used to respond to things like depression, poverty and wealth inequality. I merely pointed Pogie to an article (an article written by an AFL-CIO ExCon member) that did nothing more than talk about how FDR used a wage ceiling (by Executive Order no less) to limit executive pay while the nation was trying to recover from the Great Depression.

“The idea is not unprecedented. In a time of massive domestic and economic distress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an executive order during World War II limiting corporate salaries to no more than $25,000 per year after taxes. The president believed that if middle class fathers, brothers, and sons were putting their lives on the line for just $60 per month, the rich should be required to make some sacrifice too.

FDR’s maximum wage proposal was bold and brilliant. Believing that all citizens should help out with the mobilization effort, he refused to be bullied by the rich, and never lost sight of the fact that fair compensation and a thriving middle class are essential elements of a healthy economy — particularly during a national emergency.

A maximum wage law would actually ensure that “a rising tide [would lift] all boats,” and encourage competition while improving lives at every level of society.

The minimum wage certainly must be raised. It’s also time to start a national discussion about creating a maximum wage law.”

Of course, Pogie responded vociferously with his usual ad hominem, which is his preferred method when the left points out simple facts and alternatives to liberal dems’ tepid calls for some kind of action or the other. How dare I attack liberal dems!!!

“And the truth is that simply braying for radical change and condemning the current system isn’t an alternative. It’s intellectual onanism, empty and only satisfying for the person doing it.”

Sheesh, I never realized that asking today’s liberal dems to act more like liberal dems of the past is “braying for radical change.” Just thought a bit of a roadmap of where a party had been might help to guide them today. But I thank Pogie for the opportunity to look up “onanism.” I didn’t realize that Pogie thought that policies like FDR’s were just the masturbatory fantasies of crazed presidents (or those writing about FDR’s ideas). I guess I could just refer to his piece as nothing more than “thumb capping”, but I doubt he’d get the reference without talking to some of his school boys.

Don then proceeds on his temper tantrum spouting about a bunch of stuff I never even mentioned — insinuations of how I live my life, and what I do that have no bearing in reality. Anything to take the spotlight off how dems have forgotten how to ask for what they believe in — to espouse their values —  in the desire to get a few scraps for the masses, and a feather in their cap (and maybe the favor of a special campaign contributor or two).

Of course, he then has the audacity to throw out this unbearable bit of progressive hope:

“Policies matter. Let’s work to pass the ones we desperately need today, which will matter for millions of people, while dreaming of an even more just, more equitable future.”

Well, yes policies matter. I just happen to believe that people should not just dream about their values and offer policies that are so pre-compromised so as to ensure that the resulting legislation is a mere table scrap, compared to what could come out of putting your dreams into concrete policy statements, like FDR did. 

At least James Connor got it right. Pogie’s article was the best blogging he could do, so I should just leave it at that. It’s ok to go to the powers that be with our bowls outstretched asking for a pittance, because we know that if we ask for what we really believe in, we are doing nothing more than engaging in “smug ‘progressive’ cynicism.”  When will dems learn that if they want a bump in the minimum wage, they need to ask for a maximum wage, or a wage ceiling? Since when has politics descended into a unilateral disarmament of solid policy ideas? When did good old fashioned political compromise beginning with a set of competing beliefs and values go the way of the dodo?

Well, I put my progressive hat up long ago, realizing that for today’s liberal dems, progressivism no longer means what it once did. Today, to be a progressive is to beg, and leave one’s dreams for another day. If today’s liberals wanted to have an engaged dialog with the masses, they are going to need more than a bump in the minimum wage to get people excited. As with Max Baucus’ “it’s off the table” proclamation about not allowing the healthcare debate to begin with a full range of alternatives like single payer, it’s obvious that Montana dems don’t want to start the discussion about the minimum wage by talking about FDR’s maximum wage, or France’s current policy of pay rations for government workers (factor of 20, highest to lowest paid state worker).

And I guess asking that dems like “I do indeed support the idea of a maximum wage” Don Pogreba might have a discussion about wage ceilings and income caps, as many people are starting to do across the United States is also taboo (or “smug self-righteousness)”. We might have a discussion like the following about wage ceilings:

This idea has always existed in the United States. During the Revolutionary Era, Philadelphia’s citizens wanted Pennsylvania’s new constitution to declare that “an enormous Proportion of Property vested in a few Individuals is dangerous to the Rights, and destructive of the Common Happiness of Mankind; and therefore any free State hath a Right by its Laws to discourage the Possession of such Property.”

This is because rich people corrupt democracy. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” It seems this choice has been made from the backseat of splendid limos as they cruise through neighborhoods of boarded-up houses.

Instead of living in a country where anybody can get rich, we should live in a country where nobody can be poor. To achieve this, we need income caps, not income gaps.”

It would have been far too easy to give Pogie a pat on the back and an “atta-boy” for his post on the minimum wage. I prefer to challenge his sensibilities and get him riled up to find out what he and other dems really think. And I guess it is that they would rather attack the left for not going along with the program, than to engage in any sort of policy debate and historical analysis that might result in a better policy resolution. But then again, many mainstream dems’ hatred for any who might criticize from the left seems to always get in the way of any form of introspection about the state of policy development in the dem party.

  1. Perhaps next time I will read more carefully when confronted with the “policy debate” potential of “Yawn…typical liberal fare.”

    That’s practically Madisonian in its insight.

    Just spent five minutes sometime thinking about the privilege that lets you dismiss policy like the minimum wage. Raising it certainly may not be enough to alter the skewed distribution of resources in our country (and the broader world), but it certainly will make a difference for people who depend on it.

    That you can’t see that certainly has nothing to do with what Democrats think, but everything to do with how completely out of touch with reality your commentary is.

    • lizard19

      Pogie, your post was in response to policies being put forward by the right, and you rightly point out how wrong their position is.

      you then say we should be talking about raising the minimum wage. well, why aren’t Democrats talking about it? is their any legislation pending being held up by the obstructionist right? if not, why is there no legislation to increase the minimum wage being proposed? and if there was, could it get the 60 votes needed? would the blue dogs vote for it? if not, why?

      • Yes, Senator Harkin has a bill in the Senate right now. I think Democrats should campaign on it–and those who believe in economic justice should fight for it.

        • lizard19

          I like what Jim Webb—the co-sponsor of that bill—has to say:

          “Lower income workers continue to get squeezed by stagnant wages and rising cost of living,” Webb said in a statement announcing his support for Harkin’s bill.

          “In the age of globalization and outsourcing, the average American worker is seeing a different life and a troubling future. While corporate profits are at an all-time high, wages and salaries are at an all-time low as a percentage of GDP. Raising the minimum wage is an important step toward addressing this disparity.”

    • JC

      What “privilege that lets you dismiss that”, Pogie? I live below the poverty level. Or do you think I am asserting some other privilege that you think allows me to, in your words “dismiss policy like the minimum wage?”

      As to Harkin’s Rebuild America Act, why didn’t you mention it in your post on the minimum wage? And why haven’t you publicly asked Sen. Tester to support it and become a cosponsor?

      My main point was, and is this: if liberals want something legislatively to happen, they need to bring something more than just their proposed solution to the table. Pre-compromised bills are fated to fail in a congress that continually moves to the right. All I was doing was offering something to add to the discussion as a way to stiffen the pot before the compromising begins.

      If liberals were to channel FDR and wage caps, then maybe they’d have some leverage to get what they want, in the goals of the Rebuild America Act.

      • I’d be happy to discuss it as soon as you correct the obviously false assertion at the top of your post. Given that I sent you an e-mail showing that WordPress blocked your comment, it’d be the polite thing to do to note that in your post.

        As for your level of privilege, I’ll admit that I don’t know. You’re a couple of initials, nothing more. But I suspect that if you do indeed live close to the poverty level, an increase in the minimum wage would be beneficial, as it would for 28 million other Americans.

        • JC

          What false assertion? I said my comment ended up in the moderation queue (“Subject: [Intelligent Discontent] Please moderate:”). The censors bit was some snark offered up in the spirit of your old byline.

          Be that as it may, I don’t really think I’ll stoop to correcting my posts at the request of the english teacher, in order to get the privilege of debating someone who basically engages in the art of ad hominem and attacks the person, instead of the argument.

          You can dish it out Pogie. Some day maybe you’ll learn how to take it.

          And as to your continual downer on anonymous posters/commenters? I’d take that more seriously if an author (and occasional commenter here) at ID wasn’t anonymous.

          • I wasn’t criticizing your anonymity; I was merely reflecting on the fact that I don’t have any idea if what you say is true.

            My apologies for the authoritarian suggestion that you tell the truth. Of course, when you suggest that I censored your post (even in jest, which is clearly not what you did), a real person with an identity is maligned, even in a very small way.

            JC, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry about that.

            It’s been a real pleasure visiting.

            • JC

              I don’t need your condescension “Pogie”. Knowing your real name gives me no more assurance that you “tell the truth” either.

              ANd for a person who’s blog advertised “snark” as one of its main ingredients, you sure have some thin skin.

              And as far as you moralizing about what I have to worry about, or not is definitely a futile exercise in sophism.

              But I have come to understand that when dealing with you either here or at ID, that because I use my initials that you feel that it is appropriate to treat me as lesser than an individual using his or her real name.

              Here’s a quote from another Montana blog about anonymous writing:

              “…As to the occasional remark made that this blog “lacks courage” because it is penned anonymously, these critics do not understand that anonymous writing is a crucial component of political discourse and has always been so. Among other examples, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, a 1776 work that set forth the basic principles on which the American Revolution was based, was published anonymously…”

              The above was penned by Cowgirl about their “sophomore year.” Might I suggest that your comments and post underly a freshman’s understanding of the value of diverse and anonymous opinion, at odds with the tenets that helped to found this country.

          • Referring to me, JC? I don’t use my name to write, so that it’s not the first thing that comes up if you google me. But if you want to know who I am, a good place to start is the ‘who are we’ section of ID. If’n you’ve got half a brain it’ll be pretty obvious who I am from tehre.

            As to M. Storin, I have no clue who that is, but I imagine a person whose last name is Storin? Everyone else uses their full name.

            • JC

              I don’t care who you are. You come here and comment anonymously. Fine by me. I have no idea if what you put in your email address is anything close to your real name — anymore than you guys obviously believe that what I put in my email address is my real name.

              And you can drop the “half brain” bullshit here. I’ve been trying hard for quite a while to make it about issues, and not the person. But if you guys want to drag the debate down into the mud, go for it.

              • Larry Kurtz, Craig Moore, and Dustin Hurst all call me by my full name. It’s not a secret. The visible name is merely for the sake of continuity: I’m not a public figure, so the name “Matthew Downhour” means nothing to most people (depending on where you live, JC), but the assumed name gives a level of continuity with everything I’ve written over the past several years.

                “half a brain” is a hyperbole, by the way. I merely meant to indicate that I’m not Bruce Wayne and identifying my identity is not rocket science. I know you’re not stupid – my point is, even if you were, you wouldn’t have trouble finding out who I am. Thus, this supposed anonymity I have is rather weak sort.

              • Craig Moore

                PW, I don’t call you anything anymore since I have been blocked from commenting at your shop.

              • Which is a pity. I do miss our little chats – though to be fair I think you were more reasonable (lucid?) with your criticism of my posts than of Pogie’s.

            • Craig Moore

              PW, I wish you would start your own blog. I too miss our conversations. You are much more respectful and tolerant of disagreement. BUT the reason to do so is that you have much to say and are willing to consider opposing views and kick the can around without making it personal like Don.

              • I’ve thought about starting a blog to write posts that don’t fit well with ID – I think the value of ID is that it is stays focused on Montana and practical issues, and the items that get my attention are almost always bigger and more theoretical (Don can attest to the drafts folder full of posts I just abandoned because I felt like they would be more of a distraction from the Montana focus of ID). But, I’m not sure I have to dedication Don does to keep up the quality, appearance, and timeliness of the site. And I do enjoy ID, even if I do more commenting than posting.

  2. Dave Budge

    I think both of you guys unimaginative when it comes to poverty. On the one hand, Pogie points out a couple of studies – which are highly disputed – that raising the minimum wage doesn’t hurt employment. I’m not sure that it does but I’m sure that picking your studies is usually just an exercise in conformation bias. In other words, the jury still out and no one who has read the literature can say that any studies are dispositive.

    Now, as of the “cap the rich” thing I have a bias that it simply chases the economy down to the mediocre. That’s not making the argument that today’s CEOs deserve their pay. And I’m also not making any recommendations as to what to do about it beyond pushing control out of the hands of institutional money managers and grant a more democratic role for actual stockholders. But it’s a complicated problem.

    The problem with any floors and ceilings in the price mechanism is that they create shortages and surpluses. And if we believe in any price elasticity effects then one has to ask the question if it’s better to have one job at $10/hr or two at $7.50. The effect on the economy would mean higher gross wages at the lower rate. But that too is so abstractly theoretical that it’s very hard to measure.

    What I think both progressives and “bleeding heart libertarians” (something I accused of being from time to time) is a guaranteed minimum income level that is distributed via a “negative income tax.” Simply put, let’s assume a basic guaranteed income for every worker. Not so much money that one can live comfortably but enough to ensure basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and basic health care. I have no idea what that number is but let’s use $10/hr for the sake of discussion. Let’s say that a low marginally productive worker – because of lack of experience or education – can only get a job paying $5/hr. That $5 represents the economic point in which his low productivity pays for itself (Marginal personal productivity or MPP). Thus, his employer would pay him $5 and he would get a federal check for $5 giving him the $10 target. After some time we can assume that he picks up skills and now contributes $6/hr of productivity. The employer then pays $6 but the government only reduces his subsidy by 50 cents giving the employee a net increase to $10.50. When the workers MPP goes to $7/hr his subsidy is reduced another 50 cents giving him net $11/hr. You can see where this is going. At some point the subsidy goes away and the employee has built enough human capital to begin to accumulate wealth.

    The argument against this is that employers would exploit the system. I suppose that might happen. But according to the BLS less than 5% of the workforce makes minimum wage. So the evidence tells us that employers generally will pay a rate higher than the minimum for a worker with higher MPP.

    This certainly isn’t a new idea and was considered by JFK, LBJ and Nixon. Oddly enough, the chief proponent of the negative income tax was Milton Friedman who showed that we could provide every citizen with a guaranteed minimum income and pay for it by eliminating welfare, food stamps, unemployment insurance etc.

    Germany has a system that is close in design where if someone gets laid off but can only earn a fraction of their pay in a new job the government pays a subsidy as an automatic stabilizer for the worker. It has worked well for them and it adds huge flexibility to their labor market so workers can get trained in new work without having to start over financially.

    So, if we want to look at real transformational approaches to poverty we have to look at devices that are both good for workers and politically practicable.

    So I’ll leave the arguing about which dog-eared theory would be best to you guys. I say provide a robust minimum income to the whole damn workforce and address the problems of poverty first. We can fight about the problems of wealth once we get that solved.

    p.s. Friedman got the idea from F.A. Hayek – those mean assholes that are driven by greed and only greed.

    • I’m inclined to agree with your argument that we need to “provide a robust minimum income to the whole damn workforce and address the problems of poverty first,” Dave.

      I’d love to discuss your idea here, but I simply don’t have the time at the moment to give it due consideration. I do hope I can check back in and respond.

    • JC

      Well, I’ll agree that most liberal approaches to poverty and minimum wages are pretty unimaginative today, judging by the level of poverty we have. I’d be more interested in seeing how living wage campaigns have fared across the country, and how they could be tied in with the notion of a basic income. But somehow, I don’t think the free marketeer right would ever entertain such a notion.

      • Dave Budge

        You’re right. But this plan doesn’t lead to the road to my Libertopia by any stretch. Philosophically, Hayek would have called this an “Alternate Utopia.” But you have less a chance of getting a uniform “living wage” in the U.S. than you do a guaranteed minimum income that was written and endorsed by Milton Friedman.

        So I challenge you to think about what your real goals are. If they are socialistic egalitarianism, fine. This won’t work. But if it’s making sure people are adequately feed, housed and clothed you’re “living wage” will just about guarantee the status quo. I’m open to ideas but, whether you like it or not, the country is getting more conservative, not less.

        • Steve W

          Dave, when you say “the country is getting more conservative, not less,” what do you mean?

          Is the fact that gays can serve openly in the military an example of this? Is the fact we have elected a president with dark skin pigmentation an example of this? Is the fact that 17 states have passed medical cannabis bills an example of this?

          By what criteria do you make that assertion?

          • Dave Budge

            Sorry, slippery word. But the prevailing attitude is that the government is doing too much rather than too little. The polls have been trending this way for over a decade.

  3. i believe dave is right about the country getting more conservative in the very short term. people tend to retract social programs when they themselves are hurting economically, as is happening to the bulk of americans during this prolonged recession.

    this is natural. but. when viewed over time, it is obvious that the overall trend accross the country and the world is toward more progressive policies when it comes to social and idealistic parameters. there is always resistance to change in any dynamic system, but the glacier keeps moving downhill no matter how much resistance, noise and grinding takes place beneath it. Political parties don’t survive with stagnant ideology for long.
    it adapts or it dies.
    both the democratic party and the republican party are at the end of their useful cycles. they are not adapting.

    as a result, neither is capable of coming up with sensible solutions that actually help anyone. It will take awhile to emerge, but I am confident that newer generations will demand political systems which are more responsive to their needs.

  4. condescending behavior and arrogance are the main reasons i refuse to align myself with the democrats. although much more liberal thinking than many of the democrats i have rubbed shoulders with, i am repelled by the smug behavior of the “go along to get along” bunch who are content to applaud their democratic champions even while they obsequiously veer right in order to please their corporate and good old boy pimps.

    moving to the right toward a mythical compromise with the insatiable beast of the right wing on the part of democratic leadership has nearly destroyed US unions, environmental protection, lowered wages and encouraged corporations to ransack the treasury while shipping jobs overseas.

    who do I trust less? the far right wing who comes at me in the light of day or the party that moves chess pieces around behind closed doors and pretends to protect the interest of the 99% while obeying the whims of the 1%?

    most people feel that the right wing agenda is selfish and wrong, but after decades of betrayal by the party which once stood for something good in this country, they just don’t trust anyone anymore. The biggest enemy of the democratic party this election cycle is the betrayal of those who have principles.

  5. Big Johansson

    testing 123

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