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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Great Piece By Thomas Edsall on Loser Liberalism

Great Piece By Thomas Edsall on Loser Liberalism

Wednesday, 18 December 2013 06:06

Thomas Edsall does a very nice job of making a distinction between a political agenda focused on providing basic needs for the poor (known in these parts as "loser liberalism") and an agenda focused on structuring the economy so that growth benefits everyone rather than just those at the top. This point is a central, if often overlooked, theme of political debate. (See also my new book with Jared Bernstein on Full Employment. While getting to full employment is a policy decision, leaving tens of millions unemployed or underemployed is also a policy decision. Those fiscally conservative budgets don't come from the gods.)

Comments (9)Add Comment
The Dichotomy Between Liberals and Conservatives is Dead
written by Last Mover, December 18, 2013 7:13
Konczal described two approaches to the liberal state. In the first, “you would have the government maintaining full employment, empowering workers and giving them more bargaining power.” In the second, “you would have a safety net for those who fell through the cracks.”

This is far too mild, failing to separate loser liberals supposedly caught in the redistribution trap, from other liberals supposedly in support of reforms beyond mere redistribution.

"Loser liberals" applies equally and in many cases far more to "conservatives" as the first class welfare queens many have become in siphoning off unearned productivity gains for the 1% through specific government policies designed towards that end.

Most contemporary "conservatives" despise "free market competition", embracing in its place the overwhelming market power of monopolies and oligopolies in the private sector which have systematically suppressed the macro economy while propelling the concentrated rich to record high levels of political and economic control.

Likewise, most contemporary "conservatives" equally despise government efficiency that can, for example, provide health care via single payer easily at a half to a third the current cost with superior outcomes.

While the traditional cultural dichotomy between liberals and conservatives lives on, the economic dichotomy between the two is dead.

"Loser liberals" have evolved to thrive on both sides of the political spectrum, while progressive liberals, for example, literally beg for the possibility to allow free market competition to work again as conservatives crush it into oblivion.

The new economic dichotomy is between Economic Predator Takers versus Predator Victim Makers. The Predator Donor Class hates true efficiency because it prevents the build up of monopoly economic rents in both the private and public sector that support the 1%, who stopped paying their way long as the true loser liberal takers.

Don't frame progressive liberals as "the government maintaining full employment, empowering workers and giving them more bargaining power". This is loser liberal language itself conceding defeat at the outset ... "government maintaining ... empowering ... giving them more bargaining power ...".

Hit the conservative hypocrites where it hurts, on their own economic ground, using their own arguments, thrown back into their faces. Force them to practice the free market competition they preach for everyone else. Use the government to break their monopoly death grip held on the nation in both the private and public sector - available now, no new laws or regulations required.

Real progressive liberals don't want to be "given" anything, "taken" from fake conservatives they can already earn themselves under true efficiency standards. Overhaul the economic baselines and starting points, then we can talk about redistribution.
written by Kat, December 18, 2013 8:13
That was a great piece. We need more of this. Much more. I like Konczal's suggestions.
There is no reason why conservatives who fear a "nanny state" should not get behind this agenda too (the non duplicitous variety).
I would gladly support any Pol who would forward EITHER Agenda.
written by bailey, December 18, 2013 9:05
It is absolutely ludicrous for any HC supporter to imply she would show the slightest passion for "structuring the economy so that growth benefits everyone rather than just those at the top". Obama's financial team WAS HC's team, where did that get us?
Until we see HC turn over her Financial Policy to an ideological Dem. I will treat her efforts as just another feeble attempt to frame the debate around a false choice. There is NOTHING HC could do to convince me she cares any more for the 90% than Obama or her Husband.
written by shortale, December 18, 2013 9:39
One cavil at an otherwise good article is that he referred to the EITC as a "government subsidy" with all its "loser" connotations. The carried interest deduction also deserves to be hissed thus, moreso in that the services provided by EITC recipients are usually more unambiguously economically valuable.
Robert Scheer's "Progressives on the Take" @ Truthdig is a great read on the issue.
written by bailey, December 18, 2013 1:12
Loser Liberalism is a losing strategy. Let's start by enforcing the equal protection clause of the Costitution
written by Perplexed, December 18, 2013 3:10
I posted this on Jared Bernstein's blog yesterday in a response to a comment on the Ezra Klein comments on secular stagnation and inequality. I believe it applies here as well. Cudo's to Edsall and Konczall for suggesting we tackle this head-on. Hopefully many others will get behind it. Here's a particularly effective way to get a head-start on the process. 100 years of oppression combined with loser-liberalism is beyond embarrassing for the "democratic leaders of the world."

-"The precise verbal formulation we use to present the 'defining challenge of our time' will immediately trigger in the minds of our audience certain emotions and assumptions about what our policy agenda is and will also trigger certain counterarguments."

Yes, and they will also displace all of the alternatives we'd rather not talk about. If we just talk about what we need to do about the "poor unemployed" and view ourselves as "coming to the aid" of the poor and unfortunate that were victims of the cruel, cruel world, we can avoid any discussion of how they are the victims of the very tyranny of the majority that we imposed on them. Loser liberalism at its finest! As Ezra points, the "intellectual space" is finite, and that we need to define how it should be allocated: "Since new measures to combat joblessness or inequality are similarly implausible, it’s fair to ask why this conversation matters at all. One answer I proposed is that it focuses intellectual resources on one problem rather than the other." Of course everyone just "knows" that these measures are "implausible" so why use "waste" this valuable space right? And we also know that those in control of this "intellectual" discussion space, like Ezra and a number of other economists and pundits, are the ones that need to be "convinced," because, well, because they do "control" this "space," right? As Ezra "frames" it:
"Obviously this whole conversation is moot if inequality is a primary reason for mass joblessness and weak growth. I don’t find the evidence on that score hugely compelling.... I’m quite convinced, however, that joblessness makes inequality much worse." -Ezra Klein So the first priority then is not really to answer the question that his observation begs: is inequality a (the) reason for mass joblessness and weak growth?, but to "convince" Ezra and the other allocators of the "intellectual space" that the answer is "worthy" of their consideration. And, unfortunately, this question just didn't make the "cut."

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Clayton Act, the act that provided anti-trust protections to the producers of every other product and commodity except one: the labor of human beings, which was specifically excluded. So for 100 years now pundits and economists have been discussing how we "should really do something for those poor unemployed people," and deciding that the "intellectual space" just didn't have room for a discussion of "equal protection under the law" and "tyranny of the majority." And, as it turns out, that allocation has worked out quite well for pundits and economists, but for the unemployed, not so much. So, if we can just keep the discussion on "how do we help the poor employed, which we are 'convinced' would be good thing," this discussion will continue to go around and around in circles, possibly even for another 100 years or so, and we'll never have to discuss the real origins of why these people are unemployed. That's a lot of articles of news entertainment shows, all of which have already been written and just need to be recycled for the next issue. If it ain't broke...

I'm with Michael C, its important to get the answer right! I'd just add that its also important to "convince" our self appointed allocators of the "intellectual space" that "equal protection under the law" and preventing "tyranny of the majority" are entitled to some of this space; at least our Constitution says that they are, as if that made any difference these days.
labor as capital
written by Squeezed Turnip, December 18, 2013 8:51
Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Clayton Act, the act that provided anti-trust protections to the producers of every other product and commodity except one: the labor of human beings, which was specifically excluded.

I seem to recall Fischer Black (with Scholes?) writing that labor should just be another type of capital (since all assets can be approximated by options chains), in fact the most valuable capital according to its portion of wealth (and that unemployment surges when there is significant mismatch between providers and consumers, with stagnation occurring when resources must be shifted between sectors). Clearly if labor is mis-priced then there is free money to be made are arbitrage opportunities for some.

If there is to be equal protection, as Perplexed argues for, it would be far better for all that the other types of capital be protected at the same level as labor: in a competitive international market (no patents, no IP laws, no subsidies) , in the interest of efficiency, rather than labor being coddled as corporations have been.
black's paper (no. 950)
written by Squeezed Turnip, December 18, 2013 9:18
Black's paper was worth rereading ("General Equilibrium and Business Cycles")

Here is an interesting tidbit from that paper:
" ... It is the large number of partly independent shocks to different sectors that generates significant unemployment.

Unemployment generated this way will show considerable persistence, because it costs less to move resources between sectors slowly than to move them quickly."

That said, Black was not a fan of government intervention of any sort.
… The government can reduce the unemployment rate by subsidizing declining sectors and taxing rising sectors, or by ordering the goods and services produced in the declining sectors. This will improve welfare only if one person's unemployment imposes unavoidable costs on others.

So, it seems to me, in this current situation, even Fischer Black would agree that some intervention is in order, since the unemployment of others is definitely imposing "unavoidable costs on others." So why can't those Chicago boys realize this as well?
written by watermelonpunch, December 19, 2013 8:26
1 thing that stood out to me was this line:
In many respects, the safety net has worked to hold society together

Isn't that it's purpose?

frankly, I'd like as was mentioned the universal safety net. It would foster solidarity - something that's sorely lacking these days.

And it would be more than the kind of help when it's too late or more expensive, or when it's harder for people to dig themselves back out - like the welfare system is now.
Now, it doesn't save people from falling into poverty. It only helps lift them a bit when they've already gone down far. It also doesn't seem to be as helpful in really boosting people back out of the pits... and I think that's why people say people are dependent... well that's what happens when you make the help so restrictive that people can only get it if they're really bad off... and don't continue to help people on their way up out of poverty.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.