Skip to comments.Walter Russell Mead: The Once and Future Liberalism
Posted on 03/31/2012 8:13:00 PM PDT by neverdem
We need to get beyond the dysfunctional and outdated ideas of 20th-century liberalism.
Writing about the onset of the Great Depression, John Kenneth Galbraith famously said that the end had come but was not yet in sight. The past was crumbling under their feet, but people could not imagine how the future would play out. Their social imagination had hit a wall.
The same thing is happening today: The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the sixty years after the New Deal dont work anymore. The gaps between the social system we inhabit and the one we now need are becoming so wide that we can no longer paper over them. But even as the failures of the old system become more inescapable and more damaging, our national discourse remains stuck in a bygone age. The end is here, but we cant quite take it in.
In the old system, most blue-collar and white-collar workers held stable, lifetime jobs with defined benefit pensions, and a career civil service administered a growing state as living standards for all social classes steadily rose. Gaps between the classes remained fairly consistent in an industrial economy characterized by strong unions in stable, government-brokered arrangements with large corporationswhat Galbraith and others referred to as the Iron Triangle. High school graduates were pretty much guaranteed lifetime employment in a job that provided a comfortable lower middle-class lifestyle; college graduates could expect a better paid and equally secure future. An increasing social dividend, meanwhile, accrued in various forms: longer vacations, more and cheaper state-supported education, earlier retirement, shorter work weeks, more social and literal mobility, and more diverse forms of affordable entertainment. Call all this, taken together, the blue model.
In the heyday of the blue model, economists and social scientists assumed...
(Excerpt) Read more at the-american-interest.com ...
Brilliant, thickly textured article.
I’ve sent the link to the executive committee of our local Tea Party. This is something they should read.
Red flag warning right there whenever someone starts talking about "social systems"...
...we inhabit and the one we now need...
Skating dangerously close to liberal idealism, talking about what we need...
...failures of the old system become more inescapable and more damaging...
Uh oh, failures of the old system are mostly just perceived failures by liberals because life doesn't meet their idealistic expectations.
...stuck in a bygone age...
Ah, the good old cliches, so comfortable.
...a career civil service administered a growing state...
And no-one saw a problem with this?
...an industrial economy characterized by strong unions in stable...
Again, no-one sees a problem with this? Serving yet another master?
...government-brokered arrangements with large corporations...
Yet another warning sign of a government becoming too powerful, too entrenched in our lives.
All too true...
Not much different from rejection he’ll find from conservatives. He basically argues that both ideologies are out of date and neither is what American public wants.
It’s a long one (a whole beer’s worth), and there are some things in there that rub me the wrong way, BUT it makes a good point that most of today’s ‘progressives’ are really just reactionaries that are trying to hang on to some really broken ideas.
While I find many of the elements of the “New Deal”, unions etc to be philosophically bankrupt, I feel comfortable in capitulating that these things like Social Security used to work better than they do now; and that’s good common coalition ground. I also think it’s interesting to see that nuanced argument that the ‘blue model’ was an alternative to socialism rather than a route to it. There are certainly those that can argue well some of those earlier 20th century Dems were still bloody communists; but they did at least sometimes appear to peddle a limit, even if that’s not what they believed.
Some rights are inalienable, but some privileges should be earned.
Yes, Mead’s health care article is really good and worth a look.
he points out that there are areas of health care like cosmetic surgery and veterinary medicine where costs are actually falling.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that these are areas where there is almost no insurance coverage.
Which suggests to me that concepts like medical savings accounts, where the cost of procedures matters to the patient, is the way to go.
There will be no effective health care reform unless it can focus consumers on the cost of medical procedures, rather than the cost of health care.
But far too many Americans still have lives that are poor in meaning, in part because the blue social model separates production and consumption in ways that are ultimately dehumanizing and demeaning. A rich and rewarding human life neither comes from nor depends on consumption, even lots of consumption; it comes from producing goods and services of value through the integration of technique with a vision of social and personal meaning. Being fully human is about doing good work that means something. Is a blue society with our level of drug and alcohol abuse, and in which the average American watches 151 hours of television a month, really the happiest conceivable human living arrangement?
Third, government must reconcile itself to its declining ability to manage a post-blue economy with regulatory models and instincts rooted in the past. We need to be thinking about structural changes based on properly aligned incentive architecture, not regulatory systems based on command protocols.
Since that time, the American political terrain has shifted several times, but it never came to as firm an equipoise as during the quarter century following World War II. From 1968 through 2010 we seem to have been in another era, one in which blue liberal candidates lost more elections than they won. During these years, however, Republican gains have not been consolidated like Democratic gains were during and after the Depression. And the basic reason is that the blue social model of rising living standards based on stable manufacturing jobs for blue collar workers doesnt work anymore. Automation and outsourcing mean that manufacturing sheds jobs in good times and bad. Rapid technological change and tough international competition force companies to innovate aggressively, and to stay lean. In such circumstances, no party can keep the American people happy for long.
Now it has happened again. The success of our institutions and ideas has so changed the world that they dont work any more. We cannot turn back the clock, nor should we try. Americas job is to boldly go where none have gone before, not to consume our energies in vain attempts to recreate the glories of an unattainable past. We need to do for our times and circumstances what other Americans have done before us: Recast classic Anglo-American liberal thought, still the cultural and moral foundation of American life and the source of the commonsense reasoning that guides most Americans as they evaluate policy ideas and party programs, in ways that address the challenges before us.
For those blue Democrats clinging to liberalism 4.1, this is a time of doom and gloom. For those red Republicans longing for a return to liberalism 3.0, it is a time of angry nostalgia: Ron Paul making a stump speech. This should be a time of adventure, innovation and creativity in the building of liberalism 5.0. America is ready for an upgrade to a new and higher level; indeed, we are overdue for a project that can capture the best energies of our rising generations, those who will lead the United States and the world to new and richer ways of living that will make the advanced societies of the 20th century look primitive, backward and unfulfilled.
Weve wasted too many years arguing over how to retrieve the irretrievable; can we please now get on with the actual business of this great, liberal, unapologetically forward-looking nation?
The same goes for states and municipalities. If you pay taxes in that jurisdiction, you have a vote in that jurisdiction.
Those who do not pay taxes do not get a vote. Rates at each level have to be flat to work. You can't have one group voting to raise taxes on another while exempting themselves.
If at least some perspicacious observers could see when the New Deal began that it would inevitably lead to our current predicament, can it properly be said ever to have worked?
Not percentage, AMOUNT.
People “make money”, everyone is happy.
Until it ends - an ending that was inevitable when it was started.
"Solutions" that kick the can down the road to a bitter end are not solutions at all and should never be started.
That’s a poll tax.
Taking the same percentage of ones labor is moral as long as everyone has the same skin in the game.
And sorry, I’m too tired to have much of sense of humor...
That's a point I've been trying to make for 20 years. While they love to label themselves "progressives," there is nothing progressive, innovative, or even enlightened about the liberal agenda. It is stale, outmoded, and has been obsolete for probably half a century. And it has always been at odds with the founding vision of this nation.
If you're looking for a philosophy that works, one that measures the future as a function of a successful past, conservatism is your only real choice. Liberalism is nothing more than yesterday's leftovers.