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Liberal Values in the Age of Interdependence

In 1976, the great pragmatic American liberal James MacGregor Burns, who was a student of the Roosevelt Era, was elected (rather surprisingly) as president of the American Political Science Association. He asked two young scholars on the left to organize his annual program for the 1976 American Political Science Association, which coincided with the American bicentennial. The two young scholars he asked were Frances Fox Piven and myself. That was the first time we worked together, and I’ve been so pleased to know her all these years since. We’ve had many areas of agreement, and ample disagreement too. But back then I learned—and I know today—that Frances Piven is a great American patriot who cares deeply about two core American challenges: realizing social justice and overcoming inequality. We are here today at the Left Forum still addressing these problems.

In taking up issues facing liberalism today, we need not focus on liberal values, because they haven’t changed. They are still defined by equality, social and economic justice, democracy and democratic participation and engaged citizenship, which has been true since the inception of liberal democracy in the age of democratic revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries. And as the name suggests, as liberals we continue to cherish liberty; we know however that sustaining liberty require citizenship, equal access to political power and a democratic political community – call it public liberty.

Nor need we divert ourselves with nomenclature. In speaking of liberals, I mean progressives, leftists, small-d democrats, those willing to advocate change on behalf of improving the world and who work on behalf of equality, justice and democracy. It saddens me that so many liberals are reluctant to be called liberal when the term should be a banner for effective political struggle and a fighting liberal creed.

We do need to address our altered realities, however. For liberals seem to have taken too little account of changes in capitalism, technology and the global order that impact how liberal values must be framed to be relevant to today’s political struggles. Where capitalism and its political allies acknowledge automation, globalization and the new information economy (if only in order to exploit to further their political and economic interests), liberalism has remained stationery, failing to take the measure of such changes. As a consequence, a politically costly asymmetry has emerged between conservative political thinking and liberal political thinking. Liberals too often act as if we still live and organize and vote in a 19th century society of manufacturing jobs, bi-polar class struggle and independent and sovereign nation states; and in a political arena where the goal is to maintain the power of national syndicalism and enlarge the social-state and improve the conditions of our American working class without thinking about the consequence for workers elsewhere in the world.

Capitalism, and particularly the predatory elements that support a brute version of unregulated capitalism, have taken the measure of change and developed an approach to privatization, markets and the flow of labor and capital that take advantage of new conditions and thus privilege neo-liberal ideology, however unjust, as relevant and effective. The liberal reaction to globalization has been parochial, to oppose or overcome it. The neo-liberal and conservative reaction has been cosmopolitan, to embrace it.

The Marx no one wants to talk about today once minted a notable war cry: “workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.” Nowadays we don’t talk much workers of the world. We talk rather about American workers, “our” workers—in Wisconsin, or in New York; or theirs in France or China or Malawi. This parochialism has even infected our conference. As we speak, there is another major session taking place (one I would love to attend) called, “The European Left.” Why are they there and we here? Is the crisis for the European Left really something wholly independent from the crisis of the American left? Are there not common decisions to be made? Common challenges to be faced? How can we challenge parochialism if it is endemic to our own organizational thinking?

Let me put on the table a number of what we may regard as fundamental changes in the landscape, changed conditions in the economic and social world, that have impacted how we ought to be thinking about what it means to be a liberal, what is to care about social justice and democracy in the world today. The changes I want to address are not particularly novel; they simply reflect a reality to which we have paid too little attention.

Among the most important are: first, the shift from an industrial to an information economy in which digital media and automation play a critical role; second, the ideological shift to a neo-liberal ideology that defines the democratic state as the enemy of liberty and sees in markets liberty’s allies, leading to a massive privatization and commercialization of our life worlds; and third, a shift from a world of independent states each capable of governing the sovereign interests of their peoples to a world of interdependence in which national states are increasingly powerless to resolve cross–border issues.

The emergence of automation and the information economy has had a profound impact on work. Capitalist productivity has in effect made full employment an “externality” no longer required as condition for production and profits. To be productive in the information age where automation is the new norm, is measured by having fewer and fewer workers (and jobs) capable of generating more and more goods, services and profits.

Increased productivity suggests we do not need to challenge the idea of shorter working hours for workers.  Shorter hours is a useful response to greater productivity, as long as pay is . The reality is the efficiency and productivity of the modern information society is such that you simply don’t need people working even eight hour days, let alone twelve or fifteen hour days in order to create a productive economy. The class struggle model still presumes that there are workers and owners of capital locked in a struggle over who or what makes the real contribution to productivity: those who supposedly take risks in the name of capital, or those who actually produce the goods through their labor, that produce the value of goods. But in an automated information economy—worldwide and global—that’s not a very helpful way to conceptualize what’s at stake or to determine what we need to do in order to defend justice and equality around the world.

The same point has been made by several speakers today. Frances too has noted that at least since the 1980’s we have live in an economy that was not only rooted in increased automation and information in the traditional manufacturing economy, but we have also lived in a world defined by increasing privatization.

The great victory of the right and of capitalism in the last thirty or forty years has had little to do with its old theology of breaking up unions and controlling the Republican Party. It has done these things on the way to accomplishing something much more potent and politically efficacious – and not just here, but in Europe and around the world. The tactic has been not just to attack government in fundamental ways, but to attack government as representation, as an emblem of the public. What is the public but what belongs to us and is constituted by us? The attack has also been aimed beyond the idea of the public to the idea of democracy itself.

The notion of democracy is centered on our right as a collective community (a people) to make decisions that benefit us as a people. Hence, we speak of the “the commonwealth.” To argue, as critics of liberalism from the time of Reagan and Thatcher have done, that government is the problem and markets the solution, is to argue that “we the people” are the problem; the public is the problem; citizens are the problem. We are being urged to regard ourselves as consumers and producers rather than as citizens. Citizenship speaks to our collective identity as a national (or international) community. Privatization takes this away from us, leaving us with the identities of private consumers and personal bearers of individual rights only.

Ironically, what has followed the diminishing of government and derogation of democracy by conservatives has been the free reign of large, monopolistic, predatory corporations. Yet most Americans, even those on the so-called right, have little sympathy for the predatory policies of these corporations and banks. Yet their dangers are rendered invisible by the glaring light being shone on supposedly liberty-crushing government. So that the Tea Party ends up not only critiquing government but undermining the very idea of public goods—(the res publica from which our word for Republicans comes). In the lexicon of neo-liberals, there is no such thing as public goods, only private commodities; there’s no such thing as a public interest, only private interests, special interests, our own interests.

Both Parties have been complicit in this corruption of public language. The Clinton administration and now the Obama administration often speak of the President as the “CEO” of America, and reduce their public achievements to accomplishments that can be spoken of in terms of special interests – public employees, or persons with disabilities, or immigrants without papers, or seniors in need of medical care. President Clinton summarized the achievements of his two terms at the end of his second with a tome listing more than 400 interest groups that had benefited from his policies. The public interest, the American people, America the beautiful, were nowhere to be found.

The Democratic Party has managed to turn the public good into a series of fractured, private interests, and it seems content to refer to its aims exclusively in this manner. No wonder public employee unions are seen as a special interest feeding off the public trough; no wonder public school teachers are assumed to be one more private party seeking special advantage rather than the foundation for educating Americans into democratic citizenship and critical thinking.  One can’t build a liberal public interest by enumerating the distinctive interests of Latinos with disabilities or of gay Marines able to marry their parters. Break America into a thousand splinters and factions, privatize their interests and see only individuals where citizens once were, and of course America as a republic with great national interests and overriding common goals will vanish. And so it has.

The Republicans, who in fact quintessentially represent what I understand to be private and special interests of a narrow economic kind, have nevertheless managed, flying in the slipstream of Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric, to look like the true guardians of the nation’s public interest. “Morning in America” became a metaphor for national revival and public greatness though the policies it celebrated were privatization, smaller government and tax breaks for the privileged and wealthy, all of which helped diminish America’s greatness and downgrade it from “Number One” in the world to something far less impressive.  Thus the modern irony of conservatives advocates of private good using the language of the public, while liberals representing—genuinely and authentically— public goods and the democratic republic resting satisfied with the language of faction and interest.

How can this do anything other than undermine liberal aims? How can public servants including public school teachers, civil service employees, police and firemen and government bureaucrats be seen as any other than private parasites sucking on the body politic for their own private nourishment? It is hard to think of our fellow citizens even as “fellow Americans,” which adds fuel to the fire of those inflamed against immigrants, whether Latinos or Muslims. These might seem little more than rhetorical battles over what we call things, and so they are. But when we call democracy a bureaucratic scam by demagogues who disdain the people, and when we see in multicultural American citizens a fifth column for gang members and terrorists, names really do hurt.

How this plays out in practice can be seen in the attacks on public employee unions in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere where middle and working class folks have been persuaded that public workers with whom one might imagine they would sympathize are actually stealing their dough (via taxation). Even in New York, as Stanley Aronowitz has pointed out, this pillorying of public employees continues apace. So rather than say liberals are losing the battle for collective bargaining, it might be more accurate to say liberals are losing the battle for the very notion of what a public good is, losing sight of the meaning of the “commonwealth.” When we lose that battle over meaning and rhetorical context, it becomes impossible to win the political and practical battle to preserve public employee unions.

The third problem liberals face is the loss of their alternative paradigm – the vanquishing of socialism and communism by the market paradigm. Call it the disintegration of the “Great Left Alternative Paradigm,” which was always a difficult and troublesome and problematic, not least of all because the abstract and noble socialist paradigm was attached to the ignoble and failed practices of Soviet (and Chines) Communism. The paradox was that what illuminated egalitarianism and social justice in a theoretical perspective seemed to contradict them when put into practice by revolutionaries in Russia, China, Cuba and North Korea. As long as there was an alternative to markets and wild capitalism they produced in the global setting, it was possible to criticize market paradigms and capitalism’s claim to represent the “best” solution to social justice as well as productivity and prosperity. However deficient the actual practices of socialism, the paradigm beckoned. (Keep in mind that socialism was judged by its practices and condemned while capitalism is judged by its theory, and celebrated!) There was an alternative, whatever its problems. It produced a good deal of embarrassed stammering and temporizing, along the lines of  “Well, OK Stalinism is a pretty extreme and maybe destructive version of socialism, what with the liquidation of millions and the totalitarian tendencies, but still, at least it is an alternative.

The very presence of an alternative paradigm, however flawed in practice, gave hope to critics of capitalism and allowed them to imagine that under the right circumstances (like America’s) it could result in social justice and a more egalitarian society – as it had in Scandinavia, for example. The very presence of a paradigm, however flawed, was deeply important, because it gave progressives the sense that there was some alternative out there. The total historical discrediting and failure of that paradigm via the actual history of the Soviet Union, including its collapse in 1989, was a deep and powerful blow that the left can scarcely acknowledge – not just because it doesn’t like to admit it held the paradigm with a kind of colossal naiveté, but because the paradigm failed so abysmally. It hardly helped that after 1989, Francis Fukuyama wrote his book about “The End of History” celebrating the last paradigm standing as if it were the only and best and most awesome model history ever knew – “democratic capitalism.” Fukuyama was recognizing that the great historical, dialectical struggle between capitalism and communism was over—and that capitalism had won. History as ideological struggle was over (not so different than what Daniel Bell had called decades earlier “the end of ideology.” What Fukuyama wanted to argue was that market democracy was the only paradigm left, and that the political battles from that time on would be confined to battles within that paradigm rather than between it and some other paradigm.  The only question left was what kind of market democracy? It was hardly a surprise then that the Democratic Leadership Council, led by the future President Bill Clinton, staked out a position for Democrats within the capitalist paradigm. Or that today President Obama can say without blinking an eye we are pro-business, not anti-business; I’m an ardent capitalist… a market man.

The democratic state has become a surrogate for the socialist collective, and with socialism discredited, the democratic state hasn’t a leg to stand on. The only question is should government be little or less? Are markets sufficiently free or should they be still more unregulated? The job of the left is to fit into capitalism somewhere, a small voice whispering “maybe a little regulation wouldn’t hurt? Is justice really a collectivist principle?” The compromises wrought by President Obama seem to arise at least in part out of the fact that he sees no real alternative to the anti-government, anti-tax, individualistic, market solutions Republicans offer. He can say “slow down a little” and “can’t we cut a little bit less?” but he can’t defend government as the vox populii or insist that liberty is public rather than private, because the paradigm that allowed such claims has vanished. None of this is to wish the Soviet Union back into existence, or to deny the deficiencies of socialist collectivism, let alone to rationalize Bolshevik tyranny.

Yet we desperately miss having an alternative paradigm of justice rooted in public freedom, social equality and egalitarian justice. Marxism isn’t really the issue: I mean, after all, we actually know that in 1967 the only real Marxists were in the University of Massachusetts economics department. Those governing in Russia, Cuba, Vietnam or China were fakes using an old ideology to impose a new form of terror.

Yet the absence of a viable alternative theoretical paradigm, the absence of a language which at least in theory (however discredited in practice) had bite and reach, has made the struggle of liberalism today extremely difficult. This is not an argument to go back to older models or resurrect a socialist paradigm but to understand that without a fresh vision that illuminates new circumstances liberalism will be in trouble both as a theory and as an alternative set of policies and practices that can confront neo-liberalism, cultural conservatism and the Tea Party disdain for government, regulation and taxation.

Which leads us to how market capitalism has adjusted to changed realities that have left liberals puzzled and unsettled. Capitalism has   made a full adjustment (not a very significant adjustment) to the new world and in particular to its most striking feature: its interdependent character. Market ideologues understand interdependence as globalization, and see in it an escape from the regulatory oversight of sovereign national states. Where individual countries still oversee what happens within their borders, many important issues from global financial and labor markets to environmental and labor concerns occupy global terrain beyond their reach.

After all, the nation state was an invention of the 16th century that lasted four hundred years. It made a brilliant home for democracy, but today traps democratic institutions inside borders that do not reflect global realities. The problems democracy must address are transnational and cross-border and supersede the compass of its national institutions. Yet here is no global democracy or democratized globalization. At this point then, what nations face is a negative or malevolent form of independence: the interdependence of global warming; the interdependence of health pandemics; the interdependence of predatory global markets; the interdependence of financial institutions and banks, unregulated in the international sector.

Corporate CEOs understood a long time ago following World War II that no firm could ever again regard itself as “American,” that economic markets are global. Yet liberals continue to treat unions as national, social justice as American, environmental policy as a parochial issue. We continue to believe that we can find our way forward inside the confines of the nation state, where others long ago have gone global, Even al Qaeda operates not as a client of individual rogue states but as a malevolent NGO at home everywhere but tied to no one country. They figured out that in a truly interdependent world an effective global terrorist organization cannot tie itself to individual nations. That is one reason why the American war against al Qaeda despite the tens of thousands of p and billions of dollars has been so inadequate. We go looking for terrorists in Afghanistan, then Iraq, then Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia, never seeming to grasp that taking on the armies of tribal or national entities cannot overcome terrorists who know no national allegiance and respect no borders. So al Qaeda seems finally to understand interdependence better than the State Department or the Department of Defense.

Liberals and progressives need then to come to terms with interdependence: overcome parochialism, vanquish unilateralism, move behind the insufficiencies of hard power and formal military campaigns against informal insurgents. The left speaks the language of multilateralism and cooperation – just listen to President Obama – but often acts unilaterally in the economic sector. Our unions pit American workers against others elsewhere, insisting on bringing back jobs that are executed more economically and justly elsewhere. Distributive markets in labor suggest it is less than just to try to grab back jobs from poor people elsewhere. Liberals need to solve the labor problem globally in order to solve it justly inside the United States.   Once again the challenge is either to democratize globalization or globalize democracy. Unless we can remove democratic oversight from the sovereign box in which it sits and find a way to apply it globally, we will have neither democracy nor social justice within or among nations. Meanwhile, those who understand globalization on the right will accommodate it in undemocratic ways that benefit stakeholders while undermining justice.

Liberals have also had issues dealing with what is sometimes seen as a conservative view of American exceptionalism, although views on it do not follow partisan lines. Liberal often celebrate exceptionalism in terms of America’s founding virtues of liberty and justice for all, and Democratic Presidents from Wilson to Kennedy and LBJ have certainly spoken of American military missions as growing out of America’s special relationship to virtue and natural right. We don’t crow “we’re Number One!” but can seem arrogant and even chauvinist or jingoist in foreign policy.  Nor would we want to go into elections proclaiming, “No, America is not great, and please God, don’t bless America.” What does a liberal exceptionalism look like that isn’t predicated on the United States being better than others but having some unique qualities worth being proud about. That is not the view of the Tea Party and the “we’re number one crowd” who preferring shouting “USA! USA! USA!” to talking about the hard policy choices the USA faces. It is not the Superbowl where all-American teams compete to be “world” champions, but the question of what America stands for and can be proud of. But it is not clear to me that liberals really have a clear way to talk about exceptionalism.

We do not have to choose “for” or “against” the right’s view of exceptionalism – all or nothing.  I myself am an American exceptionalist; but I am an exceptionalist not because we’re number one, but because this country is emblematic of a global history: multicultural; open and tolerant; deeply democratic and willing to invite serious self-criticism. Exceptional precisely because of its commitment to liberal principles! It’s not that we are the world—as the old song had it—it is rather that the world is us, and we are posed for international leadership in these issues as a consequence of are being part of the world. If the world looks to us for leadership, it isn’t about American jet fighters over Libya but about democratic ideas. Not the ones to be dropped out of a Stealth bomber or sent in by Fed-Ex, but the ones we manifest in our politics of diversity, multiculturalism, and justice for all.

With interdependence our new reality, we need a liberalism of constructive interdependence that will make democracy not only just but global. In developing strategies appropriate to interdependence, the Left will not just rediscover its mission, but once again become the real shining beacon of America around the world.

My sense is that it’s not just about names and labels, but that “class struggle” has a very specific sociological and economic meaning. It is about a world in which there was an ownership class and a working class; and the claim made by Marx and other critics, I think quite rightly, was the that real value, or most of the value, of capitalism’s products and commodities was the contribution of workers who were never paid properly for that contribution in accord with the value of their labor. And it goes back to Locke’s “labor theory of value” where because we “own ourselves” we own our labor and those things with which we mix our labor.

It’s probably also the case that the Left never fully appreciated issues of risk – for which capitalists have a right to earn a profit. But those issues of risk aren’t particularly relevant today, since it’s very clear that since large corporations and banks no longer have to take any risks at all, since those have been socialized and put on the back of the workers, they deserve little in return for risks they no longer take. In a system where profit is privatized, and risk is socialized, we confront a new socialism – corporate socialism.

 

There must be Utopia, no question, but if our concern is exploitation and suffering, and the alleviation of suffering not through helping victims but changing the systems in which victims are created, then we have to be willing to work in the world, though we are liberals, as pragmatists. And if we’re not pragmatic, we can sit and write books and meanwhile people will go on suffering. So perhaps we need a kind of utopian pragmatism, a politics that reflects utopian ideas but is willing to dirty its hands and in the real world of compromise to achieve system change that will help those who suffer and allow them to become empowered, to become part of the equation. And that is, as far as I am concerned, not what we have.

I want to raise two other points concerning interdependence. Interdependence does not mean that we say, “Since capitalists have an interdependent ideology, for us to be interdependent means we accept their paradigm.” Just the opposite! They do have a powerful, governing, interdependent paradigm—it’s about anarchic (yet also, paradoxically, monopolistic) global markets, it’s about global competitions, it’s about free trade—and  right now it’s the dominant, operating paradigm in the world.

The left if just simply not responding to it. So when I say, “Let’s think interdependently,” I don’t mean “Let’s accept their paradigm.” I mean, “Let’s go out into an interdependent world and find an alternative constructive paradigm that actually will combat theirs, but will combat it not by talking about tariffs and protections country by country, but will talk about a way of dealing with labor that genuinely deals with it in an interdependent and global context.” But here’s the point: we really talked a lot about class struggle. Honestly, as somebody who’s been involved in politics all my life, we’ve all been….You know, the idea that “class struggle” is the term that is really going to animate Americans now and get them going—“That’s what we need to do, we need a new theory of class struggle!”—I just think is silly, unrealistic, it just doesn’t work.

Finally, I want to put on the table what we liberals never talk about – a politically relevant approach to new digital media. If I am going to address where America is today (and where the world is) interdependently, I want to address— it’s probably not a class—call it “Those Who Are On Facebook” — five hundred million people around the world on Facebook— more than half of all Americans. I want to talk more generally about social media. Democratic or anti-democratic? Exploitative or not? Are they part of a class struggle, or not? I’m not sure those terms really help; I do know this—I believe (and be happy I won’t make the argument now!) that Facebook and social media are actually anti-social media, anti-political media, anti-civic media. They act against the interest of participatory democracy; they act against the interest of interdependence—even though they use a web archeology that is both interdependent and democratic. Democratic in the sense that their architecture is horizontal, face-to-face, person-to-person. That, to me, is a great tragedy; that the great new innovative technology of our time—that young people particularly love—is being used not for purposes of democracy and leveling and equality and the struggle for justice, but is used instead for privatized gossip, for interaction among people who are looking for others just like them rather than looking for people who are different than they are. In other words, the misuses, the abuses—the privatization of social media, which should be a powerful civic media—to me is a powerful and important theme.  Especially because in their conception and architecture the new media are so promising, a veritable new electronic frontier for freedom.

Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe there will somebody who will defend Facebook as a civic medium, but whether or not I’m right, the issue ought to be on the table. It ought to be one of the big sessions here. We ought to be talking about, “What do we think about Facebook? What we talk about, what we think about social networks? Can they play a role?” When Howard Dean, with whom I worked with in 2006, introduced the idea of using the new media, he introduced it basically just do what the old media and public relations always did. Same with President Obama’s campaign, where the web was used to pull together and draw in supporters, who would go out and work for him; to exploit the interactivity of it as a promise about ongoing participation that was never realized. All that disappeared right after the election was over. We that know one of the reasons Obama and the Democrats didn’t do very well in 2010 is that they pushed aside the social network they had created around the Obama campaign in 2008, and therefore turned off a lot of young people who could have play a role in 2010. What we do know is that 18% of the vote in 2008 was between 18 and 25, and only 11% of the vote was this last time in 2010; the handheld generation wasn’t there second time around.

Ask yourself, are people on Facebook exploiters or exploited? Are they conquerors, victims or are they neither? Is it class or is it something else? I’m not sure those terms help us to understand the civic vices or potential virtues of new media.  But we do know that the new media are playing a vital role in how young people think about the world, think about society and, I believe, how they become privatized, selfish, gossip oriented, and uninterested/disinterested in democracy. And I think that’s a very serious problem, and I think developing a liberal or radical point of view on that could be truly important. We still do what we used to do, and that’s good; we understand that the old media—the broadcast and print media—are now subject to private ownership and big corporations, and fat cat money, who use them not as instruments of civic education, but for something very different. If you want to follow the money, then you follow the money of the NewsCorp and Fox and so on, back to capitalist ownership, and you follow that back to the Koch brothers; or to oil money.

Kingdom Holdings (a Saudi foundation) owns the largest minority stake holding in Rupert Murdoch’s news corporation that controls Fox News, which means that folks for Fox News—though I think they’re trying to do what they believe and believe they’re trying to be good journalists—are paid in part from Kingdom Holdings, big oil money. So we know that tainted money is an argument we have, and that we use.

But it’s much harder, because it doesn’t let itself to these easy kinds of things, to talk about who “owns” social media, who owns the World Wide Web. Does ownership of hardware or a software platform mean control of the medium? What if the software is “bundled” into the hardware? Should we be for or against “net neutrality” or open source software? …from the perspective of social justice? I’ve heard arguments on both sides, but those are vital arguments, because that’s where the next generation—that’s largely not in this room and at this conference; there’s some, but largely not—that’s where they are. There are far more people on Facebook this morning in this neighborhood than are at this conference. And we need to go where they are and address those issues and try to figure out what it is about social media that’s so attractive yet so dangerous. Is it part of privatization, or can it be part of a new theory of public media?

Addressing such questions to new media is just one example of the way in which fresh thinking about interdependence can perhaps enlarge our political perspective and allow us to address new and real problem. Here I completely agree with Stanley—it’s not enough to win elections, particularly when the parties are so like one another, we have to do a lot more than that—although I need to add (on the other hand), that the first step in even the weakest democracy is to win elections. We can’t forego winning elections—you see what happens to the supreme court and the judiciary when we lose. So we also have to win elections, even if the victories are pyrrhic and even if we don’t get very much in the way of serious socio-economic change.

And to win elections, we better understand the information age; we better understand the impact of social media; we better understand why five hundred million people around the world do get together on Facebook, but don’t get together around social economic exploitation, do not get together to defend themselves, do not get together to try to change the global economic system that exists today.
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This essay is adapted from a talk given at the 2011 Left Forum in New York City. 

 

One comment on “Liberal Values in the Age of Interdependence

  1. Charles Crawford on said:

    Thanks for one of the funniest sentences ever written: “…what illuminated egalitarianism and social justice in a theoretical perspective seemed to contradict them when put into practice by revolutionaries in Russia, China, Cuba and North Korea.” Seemed!

    You miss the point, namely that the supposed “diminishing of government” has coincided with ever-increasing state sector activity and sprawling/unaffordable borrowing by the state at all levels in many Western countries, plus steadily rising debt/GDP ratios. This model is doomed to crash for all the obvious reasons (viz maths), and is crashing.

    Plus globalisation empowers poor people round the planet and makes people in (say) Asian and African countries directly competitive with people in the hitherto affluent world (see eg my call-centre conversation last night with the Philippines). This knocks out your strange thought: “Shorter hours is (sic) a useful response to greater productivity, as long as pay is”.

    We are going to get lower pay whether we like it or not, as world pay rates move towards a lower overall average. This is bad for pampered Western workers, especially those in the private sector, excellent for a far larger number of people everywhere else. This also explains why there is a growing public reaction against state sector workers who often are enjoying job security and pensions pumped up on unaffordable debt far beyond what is affordable elsewhere. See eg California.

    The ‘liberal’ perspective seems to have no serious answer other than to want ‘more government’. Once you come up with a vision for the role of the state that is far more flexible, and far less intrusive/oppressive, you’ll perhaps be back in business.

    Oh, and if I were you I’d stop asking whether Facebook is oppressive or exploitative or part of ‘class struggle’. It makes you sound a bit … eccentric.