Thursday, August 25, 2011

a refreshingly honest take on neoliberal "consensus"

I really appreciate Pascal Emmanuel Gobry for just straight laying the neoliberal antipathy for democracy out there.

Gobry claims, with dubious evidence, that the French economy is on a precipice, and that if it fails the world will fail, and so France must reform. His preferred reforms are your standard neoliberal boilerplate, which has the usual dissonant logic going-- the US economy is on a precipice, and the US has pursued the neoliberal agenda for 30 years. Remember, though, that elites have decided that neoliberalism can never fail, and so there is no reason for concern. Three decades of committed deregulation and capture of our government by rapacious plutocrats and our economy being brought to the verge of total destruction have nothing to do with each other. Let's mimic the policies that have destroyed working conditions for the American people, created spiraling inequality, gutted our regulatory infrastructure, and handed more and more power to the richest few.

But this agenda would be deeply unpopular with the French people. Gobry himself acknowledges this. So what to do? Compromise? Do the hard work of advancing a position politically? Or, heaven forbid, accept that not everyone in the world is on board with the neoliberal platform, and stop acting as if the opinion of policy elites should be enough to counteract the will of the people.

Gobry picks a different option: literal fascism. Think I exaggerate? Look and be amazed. He wants Sarkozy to pass new regulatory and tax schemes "by decree" and to use the emergency wartime powers most countries have to enforce them. Yes, he wants to be able to institute martial law in order to force the neoliberal policy platform onto an unwilling populace.

Now, I ask you: can you imagine if some leftist advocated a similar thing? Can you imagine the reaction? The backlash? This isn't somebody noodling on a Blogger blog like me. This is a guy at Business Insider, a mainstream, professional publication. He's calling for military takeover to force the people to adopt the policies he wants. If someone advocated doing this in a professional publication in order to pass a carbon tax or single payer health care, I can't even imagine the reaction. Liberal bloggers would be leaping to distance themselves from such a statement. Every conservative would crawl out of the woodwork to say that this is how all liberals secretly think. It would be pandemonium.

This should be disqualifying for taking Gobry seriously, but I imagine it won't do any damage to his reputation at all.

Think about how the blogosphere creates insiders and punishes those who don't play the game. Look at Glenn Greenwald. Everybody acknowledges his work as prominent and important. But most in the Cool Kid Club talk about Greenwald as if he's some tiring fact of life to be ignored if possible and argued with only as a last resort. I'm hardly a blogging insider but even I know how much most liberal bloggers grumble about him privately. Why? Because he keeps bringing up politically inconvenient realities; because he isn't afraid to talk about morality and character; because he doesn't pretend that politics is a game; because he calls people on their petty hypocrisies. He violates the code. That's enough to earn him a lot of derision.

Well, here we have somebody who is advocating the use of emergency military powers to suppress democracy. Will people react to that? Or does the fact that Gobry is pushing the elite line mean that they won't condemn him at all? Gobry says "We find themselves in the same position today: what is desperately needed is decisive action and a wholesale abandonment of old, discredited ideas, in this case austerity." Actually, in this case, the "discredited idea" is democracy.

This sort of talk should scare you, but it's actually not that far out of the mainstream. Gobry is taking this to an extreme, but it's an extreme derived from the logical progression of neoliberal ideas. One of the things that makes neoliberals so creepy is that they always, always talk as if their ideas are agreed to by everyone when in fact they are and always have been resisted. Consensus and democracy have nothing to do with each other. Dissent is the life blood of democracy. But everywhere, always, neoliberals of all three flavors (called progressives, libertarians, and conservatives here in this country) insist that There Is No Alternative. You can see this attitude play out in the enforcement of the neoliberal agenda in the second and third world, where countries face coercion and violent reprisals from the first world nations if they don't get in line. You can see it in the struggle of indigenous people, like with the Zapatistas, who rose up against globalization and were swiftly branded terrorists. And you can see it in the way a small, elite group of bloggers, totally disconnected from the day to day lives of average Americans, assert the privilege of their access and their affluence and refuse to countenance contrary opinion.

As I am someone who believes that words have meanings and am not afraid to use them, I will say that this post (published at Business Insider!) is Gobry coming out as a totalitarian. But in a deeper sense, he's just taking the neoliberal attitude towards dissent to its logical conclusions.

Update: I sense I'm not being very articulate in the connection I'm trying to make here, so let me be more clear. I'm not the discourse police and my point isn't at all that PEG should, I don't know, get fired from Business Insider or something. I'm just saying that I'm consistently amazed by what does and does not get people put on the blogosphere shit list.

The point about Greenwald is that he's a guy who has undertaken a project I once thought any politically minded person would endorse, protecting civil liberties, and yet gets a lot of flak constantly. Here you have someone arguing for using emergency wartime powers to pass a set of laws and policies that many citizens would resist. That's pretty extreme! Yet I doubt that there will be any fuss about it at all.

Update II: Here's a point a couple commenters have made, as voiced by Anonymous:
Not to be too charitable to PEG, but if you actually RTFC, Article 16 is not about martial law and commandos storming the IRS (or whatever it is in France) - english translation here: http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/english/8ab.asp
and it ends with

After thirty days of the exercise of such emergency powers, the matter may be referred to the Constitutional Council by the President of the National Assembly, the President of the Senate, sixty Members of the National Assembly or sixty Senators, so as to decide if the conditions laid down in paragraph one still apply....

25 comments:

redscott said...

Whenever anyone talks about the importance of "consensus," I usually look for my wallet. Not always, but more often than I'd like, what it means is that someone wants to get their pet idea implemented and will resort to shaming or deriding those who dissent from it as irresponsible outliers from the "consensus," ie, what that person and his/her buddies or supporters think. Earnest appeals to submit to the reasonable consensus thus are really about telling you to conform to what they want. On the business level or the political elevel, it makes me want to blow chunks because it's a particularly bad-faith, oleaginous way to get what you want.

Josh said...

The mind boggles. I really dig:

Hand over the implementation of this plan to a hand-picked group of highly internationally respected technocrats, and give them far-reaching powers under the law to strike down or suspend regulations.

Ah, yes -- the trick is just putting France in the hands of enlightened, rational people. What could go wrong? Happy Fructidor!

Anonymous said...

"This is a guy at Business Insider, a mainstream, professional publication."

That's baloney, Freddie. BI is to business what Drudge Report is to news. The editor, Henry Blodget, is banned from the securities industry. The site basically consists of misleading headlines and click-bait listicles.

Why is Greenwald alone? Perhaps it's because he drives away other bloggers with his "I'm right, I was right, I've always been right" stance. Perhaps I'm overreading, but have you ever listened to him on Bloggingheads? Does he seem like someone that you'd want to have a cup of coffee with?

(That's probably overly personal. Maybe in real life, he's a really nice guy. Who knows.) -K.

Anonymous said...

Not to be too charitable to PEG, but if you actually RTFC, Article 16 is not about martial law and commandos storming the IRS (or whatever it is in France) - english translation here: http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/english/8ab.asp
and it ends with

After thirty days of the exercise of such emergency powers, the matter may be referred to the Constitutional Council by the President of the National Assembly, the President of the Senate, sixty Members of the National Assembly or sixty Senators, so as to decide if the conditions laid down in paragraph one still apply....

paul h. said...

What Anonymous said ... I think people are annoyed with Greenwald because he's shrill (i.e. actually shrill, not "shrill" in the Balloon Juice lexicon sense), and a bad writer, and just sort of tiresome. I've read him religiously for five years, but he still annoys the shit out of me. He has absolutely zero sense of humor, and I don't think he's ever admitted that he was wrong on any major point.

Also I know this wasn't precisely what you were arguing, but do you actually not agree that the French labor market is overregulated? ... Socialism and labor unions aren't a panacea either

ovaut said...

Yes, I was amazed by this Yglesias post; it made me see that my pessimistic, pyrrhonist view of life separates us totally on the big questions.

Anonymous said...

these bloggers, you have to recognize, sincerity and conviction stink to them of poverty

redscott said...

This comment thread illustrates F's point about GG and his reception among "progressives" - no specific criticisms on the merits, but he's irritating, shrill, you wouldn't have coffee with him, etc. I particularly like the last one because one of the specific memes of the MSM's tongue-bathing coverage of GWB in 2000, which helped vault him to the WH, was that you'd like to have a beer with him (that policy stuff is so boring!). It's cool when the thread just amplifies your point for you.

Anonymous said...

That's silly; I'd like to think we're smart enough to distinguish the differences between choosing presidents and pundits on personality.

Freddie (in part) asks "Why is Glenn read and respected, but sort of disliked and not engaged with?" and my answer is "Because he's annoying." I'll also add that he responds to criticism disproportionately and his policy positions are now entirely predictable.

I'll also answer Freddie's 2nd question: "Why will PEG be ignored?" Answer: There's no elite conspiracy here. Because French politics is obscure and difficult, PEG isn't really well known, PEG's specific policy proposals don't have a snowball's chance and no one takes BI very seriously. -K.

paul h. said...

"This comment thread illustrates F's point about GG and his reception among "progressives" - no specific criticisms on the merits, but he's irritating, shrill, you wouldn't have coffee with him, etc."

Huh? I'm not a progressive ... but anyway, I'm not at all uncomfortable with the content of Greenwald (it's great), as many progressives probably are; I was just pointing out that perhaps a big component of the progressive dislike of Greenwald is his tedious personality, and not just that "they can't deal with his truth-telling style!!!" or whatever.

See, e.g., Taibbi, who says many of the same things but is clearly not a tedious, shrill human being; and hence is far more popular.

Ranjit Suresh said...

If progressives are serious about winning, about rolling back the reactionary tide of privatization, austerity, and war-making, then they have to some more bloody solidarity with their leading spokesmen. I couldn't care less if you don't like Greenwald's style of writing and elocution. He's one of more prominent progressives and civil libertarians in the media today. When a second and third New Deal is being legislated and the military industrial complex is dismantled, then we'll have time for settling scores with writers on our side who rub us the wrong way. Otherwise, you're just undermining their message, which presumably is also our message.

Unless of course, all the stylistic quibbles and personal digs are cover for a disagreement of politics.

Paul said...

Ranjit Suresh: exactly right.

I'm always baffled on the subject of Greenwald. The "shrill" thing, the coffee thing ... this stuff is so tiny and inconsequential compared to what he's writing about! I've seen this reaction steadily for years, but it still amazes.

It makes me think of a guy running through a skyscraper shouting, "The building's on fire!"---and the building REALLY IS on fire---and everyone's going, "phew, that guy has kinda bad breath!" I mean, maybe he does. But there's something deeply sick about even responding to the observation.

Michael said...

I think everyone acknowledges what Freddie acknowledges: that everyone acknowledges that Greenwald's work is indispensable. What important behavior by other figures, then, with respect to Glenn, is significant here? Apparently very many people don't like dealing with him though. Okay. So? So they grumble about him, while praising his work (or perhaps occasionally substantively engaging on certain points) and supporting its substantive thrust. Is there some great interest in this that i don't apprehend?

If media (high and low ecosystem types alike) were exhibiting right thought and behavior toward Glenn Greenwald, exactly what behavior would they be exhibiting, or not exhibiting toward him, given that we already stipulate that in general his work is already showered with considerable respect and
advancement by most who encounter it?


I would note that less than an hour ago, Greenwald had a 10-minute segment more or less to himself where he got to make his main points about accountability for government abuse more or less entirely unencumbered on what I assume is thought to be among the leading problematic media organs in terms of this dynamic, MSNBC. Though perhaps, given Greenwald's previous treatment by both Dylan Ratigan and Cenk Uighur, MSNBC actually is closer to exhibiting the kind of treatment we think Greenwald ought to receive. But if that fact were true, it would be a problem for the thesis in the first instance, I would think.

Matt said...

I thought this line really hit the nail on the head:

One of the things that makes neoliberals so creepy is that they always, always talk as if their ideas are agreed to by everyone when in fact they are and always have been resisted.

Putting aside, for a moment, any arguments as to whether neoliberal policies are actually right or wrong, the extent to which they're treated as a proven scientific theories in line with evolution and special relativity is really quite extraordinary. I remember some months back when you (Freddie) wrote your widely read jeremiad against the liberal blogosphere, you criticized the fact that the neo-liberal framework not only dominated the discussions, but in fact was the only real framework allowed in the discourse. One of the common responses was basically, "well, duh, its been proven to be successful, so why wouldn't everyone adopt that framework?"

It was really an amazing argument. After all, I don't think its been proven at all. But more importantly, it demonstrated your point even better than you could've because the only way someone could actually believe that the framework has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt is if they lived in a bubble in which people only argued for that basic framework. In other words, it perfectly demonstrated what the mainstream liberal blogosphere is.

I'm not suggesting that neo-liberalism doesn't belong in the debate, certainly it deserves a seat at the table. But its truly amazing the extent to which the people at the table have decided that they're only going to have debates within this framework ,eschewing more traditional left wing approaches despite, the fact that the failures and shortcomings of their framework are obvious to observant people and even more blatantly obvious to those people experiencing the policies.

Matt said...

Huh? I'm not a progressive ... but anyway, I'm not at all uncomfortable with the content of Greenwald (it's great), as many progressives probably are; I was just pointing out that perhaps a big component of the progressive dislike of Greenwald is his tedious personality, and not just that "they can't deal with his truth-telling style!!!" or whatever.

See, e.g., Taibbi, who says many of the same things but is clearly not a tedious, shrill human being; and hence is far more popular.


You think Taibbi is more popular in the mainstream liberal blogosphere? Really? Remember Tim Fernholtz's bs attack against his Goldman article and the subsequent praise said attack received throughout the liberal blogosphere (although Felix Salmon - who is generally accepted as a mainstream guy - had a great takedown of Fernholtz.) I think the mainstream crowd see Taibbi's hyperbolic rhetoric, his iconoclasm, and especially his frequent use of the F-bomb as totally shrill.

That of course is not to say that these criticisms of Taibbi are fair or legit, but thats the point, their no more fair than the criticisms of Greenwald. Both are guys who are unafraid of repeatedly taking on issues that make other liberals extremely uncomfortable, whether in the case of Taibbi its Obama's coddling of the banks or in the case of GG its Obama's track record on civil liberties. And consequently, I think both are disliked by the mainstream liberal blogosphere and many choose to go after them by criticizing their style over substance.

As for the other criticisms against GG in this thread, that he's tedious, long-winded, and predictable, I think there's a certain amount of truth to those claims, but I don't think he could be effective if not for those qualities. He's making substantive criticisms about genuinely important things that mainstream writers on both the left and the right generally choose to ignore. No one with an audience as big as him is addressing the issues in the way that he, so he can't really rely on reinforcement from the rest of the blogosphere. He has to, day in day, out methodically make his case in order to ensure that it gets laid out in such a comprehensive fashion that people simply cannot ignore it - and he's been quite effective at that. Moreover hes's pretty much on his own to buttress it against the inevitable critiques that will come once he forces his way into the conversation, hence his long-windedness. As for predictability, I fail to see how thats a criticism. To me that shows that he has consistent and transparent principles.

This isn't to suggest he's without shortcomings as a blogger. He is often far too quick to dismiss his critics - although given the amount of BS criticism he takes (like the oft-repeated lie that he's Koch funded) its somewhat understandable that he can be impatient with his critics. But I think he is almost singularly responsible for the fact that there's any discussion whatsoever of Obama's track record on civil liberties and the war on terror. Much as I think those things are underdiscussed, I shutter to think what those debates would be like without him. And to be perfectly frank, these criticisms that tend to focus more on his style, rather than the substance of his arguments, only serve to bolster Freddie's argument that mainstream liberals don't like GG because he refuses to play the game in the approved fashion.

Anonymous said...

Would it be possible to speculate or even Name Names as to who in the mainstream liberal blogosphere doesn't like GG outside of Freddie's CKC (MY and EK, natch)? I think we're at the point in this conversation where it might be helpful. -K.

redscott said...

They openly hate GG at Balloon Juice, for example, and Lemieux at LGM respects him to some extent but really hates it when he criticizes Obama (I thought he was going to have a conniption fit when GG lambasted the Bystander Theory of the Presidency that progressive defenders of Obama have been using to defend his lack of action recently). Otherwise, as you note, some other neo-liberal folks irked by GG are EK, MY and some of the folks at TAPPED like (as Matt notes) Tim Fernholz. If anyone else can think of others, cool, but those are ones that come to mind.

Anonymous said...

Thanks -- that's helpful. -K.

zz said...

This is why people hate Greenwald; what an annoying pedantic lawyer type:

http://ggdrafts.blogspot.com/2011/08/dog-opportunity.html

I know *I'd* never have a beer with him.

jcapan said...

"The point about Greenwald is that he's a guy who has undertaken a project I once thought any politically minded person would endorse, protecting civil liberties..."

If by politically minded person you mean non-partisan. The liberal blogosphere, however, is a nakedly tribal entity. Unlike Greenwald, its A-list practitioners have little to no intention of being adversarial to democrats in power. Whatever blogastic whinging they may get up to, they gather at Netroots Nation annually to give a blood oath in support of corporate democrats

Aidan said...

"If progressives are serious about winning, about rolling back the reactionary tide of privatization, austerity, and war-making, then they have to some more bloody solidarity with their leading spokesmen. I couldn't care less if you don't like Greenwald's style of writing and elocution. He's one of more prominent progressives and civil libertarians in the media today. When a second and third New Deal is being legislated and the military industrial complex is dismantled, then we'll have time for settling scores with writers on our side who rub us the wrong way. Otherwise, you're just undermining their message, which presumably is also our message."

If I have this right, people who should be exempt from criticism due to their status as leading spokesmen for the progressive cause: a blogger with whom you personally agree

People who should not be: the president with the most progressive domestic achievements in four decades

Anonymous said...

A headline from your mainstream, professional publication:

"Race War At Wisconsin State Fair"

-K.

mfarmer said...

I wish you wouldn't throw libertarians in the neo-liberal camp.

WOW Gold said...

On the business level or the political elevel, it makes me want to blow chunks because it's a particularly bad-faith, oleaginous way to get what you want.

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