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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Why California Model Charts a Better Future Than Trump’s GOP

The following post by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis (cross-posted from his facebook page):

I welcome their hatred!

There’s a bit of a kerfuffle about an article I recently wrote with Peter Leyden that was part of our California Is the Future series on Medium. The article, “The Great Lesson of California in America’s New Civil War”, was recently tweeted about by Jack Dorsey, the Twitter CEO, who said it was a “great read”.
Cue the right-wing outrage. Their view is:

1. The fact that the Twitter CEO favorably mentioned our article is irrefutable proof that Twitter is part of a Vast Liberal Conspiracy to promote the left and shut out the right.

2. The article argues that there is a struggle going on for which model America should follow and it will be resolved not by bipartisan compromise but rather by one side triumphing over the other. The article takes the Democrats’ side and sees California as our best current model for where the country is and should be going. The Trump model, closely embraced by today’s Republican Party, must be defeated.
That, according the right wing howls that Dorsey’s tweet has elicited, can only mean we envision turning America over to “mob rule” and a one-party state.

3. Since it is article of right wing faith that California today is a hellhole little better than Venezuela, the very idea of California as a model for America’s future sends them into a tizzy. As the commentator on the conservative Townhall site says: “I’d rather chug bleach”.

Well, that seems a bit over the top. Anyway, I do plead guilty to the idea that California is a way better model for the country’s future than the pronouncements and policies of the today’s Trumpized Republican Party.

Meanwhile, as FDR put it in a different context, I welcome their hatred.

3 comments on “Teixeira: Why California Model Charts a Better Future Than Trump’s GOP

  1. M. Ross Baldwin on

    I am one who is convinced that passage of the Citizens United decision essentially ruined the efficacy of our two party form of democratic government. The result has been unbridled flow of commercial money to support the conservative agenda resulting in a preponderance of legislation that blindly favors increased profit margins for American business, principally those businesses in the financial sector.
    Ethical oversight and regulation is all but defenseless under the current regime. The only sustainable way forward is through a parties advocating peaceful revolution and a return to ethical precepts of government for and by the people.
    Not only are new parties required but also new sytems for ensuring that the prevailing majority rules following every public voting process.

  2. Martin Lawford on

    According to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, California has the highest poverty rate in the nation at 23.8% (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_and_territories_by_poverty_rate). That is half again higher than in Mississippi and it is double the poverty rate in states like Iowa and Nebraska. Yet, Teixeira calls California “a model for the country’s future.” Donald Trump may be crazy, but not even Donald Trump is crazy enough to call a 24% poverty rate a model for the other 49 states.

  3. Victor on

    The American political conversation is dominated or even monopolized by two groups who hardly represent even the majority in their respective parties, liberals among Democrats and libertarians among Republicans.

    The broad majority of people of other persuasions have usually mixed/syncretic ideologies and in the end don’t actually care for the war between the liberals and libertarians but just want solutions to their everyday problems. Liberals and libertarians do this because they are ideologues and because the kind of conflict they provoke is good for their financial backers and for the media that covers them -usually one and the same-. Most billionaires don’t care for a politics of solutions and when they do they are usually involved in philantropy more than financing parties.

    The fundamental misunderstanding between liberals and libertarians is that liberals want a big government that will pay for education, healthcare, housing, etc.

    Libertarians want good jobs that will allow people to pay for that themselves.

    The liberal solution requires high corporate and personal taxes. Corporate taxes mean less international competitiveness and losing jobs. High personal taxes mean you can’t afford everything.

    But high wages also mean losing international competitiveness. In order to compensate for that you need education, healthcare, etc to be relatively cheap. Here comes deregulation.

    Libertarians don’t want deregulation and low taxes out of a whim, they just believe it is the best way to arrive at high paying jobs.

    Liberals don’t want high taxes out of a whim, they just think that the public buying collectively things like education, healthcare, etc lowers the price for these and allows lower disposable income to go a longer way. They also think that issues like the environment can’t be sacrificed in order to have jobs because the environment affects things like health too much.

    Right now one can say that Scandinavia represents the liberal model and that China represents the libertarian one.

    In truth in the Western context it is hard to say that any country even approaches perfectly representing either model. The United States has always been a mixed economy. It has always mixed strong capitalism with a strong dose of state intervention in investments and in providing public services.

    Given that there have never existed “real” capitalist, libertarian, liberal or socialist societies it is speculative to affirm that any model is the best or perfect one.

    What we can compare are the effects of different policy mixes in different policy settings.

    Dogmatic ideological preferences that fail to take into account history, political culture and economic structure are bound to fail. You can’t introduce too much libertarianism to a welfare state and expect things to go smoothly. Neither can you introduce too much state intervention into a mostly capitalist economy without creating moral hazard problems and other unintended consequences.

    As an example, Republicans and Democrats both seem to be wrong about what to do with the healthcare system. Republicans want more market to reduce prices and then expand access while Democrats want more access to control costs by spreading them. Both are dealing with healthcare at the macroeconomics level. But neither party is dealing with the healthcare industry at the microeconomics level. Democratic interventions in healthcare have raised costs if one does an international comparison. Even for economies that are similarly capitalistic the US is incredibly wasteful when it comes to healthcare.

    Liberals never talk about how this waste means there are then fewer resources to deal with areas where there is underinvestment like housing, infrastructure or training policies. Less public investment in healthcare and more public investment in those areas would create quality jobs that would also lead to expansion of access to healthcare.

    In the US domestic context we are seeing the different models play out again in the North vs South divide. The Northeast has been steadily losing population even as it expands the welfare state. The South has been gaining population and certain types of jobs.

    The question of whether the North or the South is doing better is not a clear open and shut case. While many statistics point to the North doing better, people seem to be voting with their feet in favor of the South.

    Democrats seem to be in favor of imposing unwanted rule in the South instead of accepting the Republican offer of lowering national taxes. Blue states could then raise state taxes and let the models continue competing.

    The problem with this is an issue the European Union has been tackling for a long time. State aid for corporations is a problem that exacerbates the competition between regions. In the European Union the intensity of state aid is limited according to the level of development of the region (more wealthy regions get to spend less on some types of corporate welfare).

    In the EU states still compete based on taxes and wages, but they aren’t allowed to compete on the environment or some types of labor law that are harmonized. Consumer taxes are also partially harmonized so that products aren’t sold in other states at a much lower price.

    In some ways the EU is more federalized than the US. What the US has developed further are the systems of federal taxes (including social security), immigration, bankruptcy, banking and capital markets. The EU is dealing with all of these as I write (social security will be the only one not to be significantly harmonized).

    Meanwhile the US will do nothing to prevent unfair competition between the states. So in response Red and Blue states want to impose their own model via the federal government via piecemeal policy interventions.

    The US Constitution originally favored states taking care of almost everything. But ever since the Great Depression and the FDR revolution this is no longer the case. Systems like social security were established via state consent but Red states are increasingly questioning that settlement.

    With populations shifting out of the traditional North the South has gained the power to reopen the conversation. Liberals want to consider the conversation closed and to use federal institutions for enforcement and further expansion (eg Obamacare).

    Many Libertarians and conservatives just want to acknowledge that the conversation can be had. They want to be convinced that the current model is the best that we can have.

    When it comes to healthcare, education, energy and welfare there are hard questions to be answered about substantive effectiveness and cost efficiency. Fixating on debating market vs non-market approaches detracts from the real issues though. No side will accept that the other side completely imposes its approach on the whole US.

    The historical reasons for compromise are all still there. The “to the death” approach of US politics achieves very little policy wise at very high emotional costs to individuals and to collective political culture.

    Bill Clinton-type triangulation is not centrism or pragmatism though. The Clinton presidency introducted incoherent and opportunistic reforms. The damage from many of the them was only recognized once the bubbles that characterized his presidency stated exploding one by one.

    The one positive thing that has to be recognized from his presidency though is that broad based growth does pull all boats up. This is also the case for Obama and so far for the Trump presidency. Although Presidents rarely have enough control of politics to determine whether the state can intervene sufficiently to push for economic growth and given the fact that even then the effects of their policy interventions would be felt later in the economic cycle, this doesn’t mean that decisions don’t matter.

    For example, the long term effects of the liberalization of foreign trade can be studied. Policies do matter.

    In the end the US is governed from the center. Obama was not a particularly progressive President and Trump has barely been able to deliver on his promises. Clinton had to govern under Republican supervision as Reagan under Democratic one.

    This is a testament to the strength of American political institutions and consistency of its political culture. But also an example of the actual nature of political change.

    Most people feel that change takes place either via small reforms or via big revolutions. History tends to demostrate that change comes almost equally via both.

    The really trascendental changes seem to come from political or even violent revolutions. But even revolutions aren’t that revolutionary, they tend to stall.

    Incremental reforms on the other hand may be either revolutionary taken as a whole (specially when seen retrospectively) or precursors of revolution due to their limited character (again when taken as a whole).

    A set of mediocre reforms may trigger a revolution that wipes them all out. Most revolutions trigger counterreforms that diminish over time the revolutionary ethos.

    The best reforms/revolutions create a mix of institutions and cultural political practices that survive for generations. It is much easier to reform taxes than reform the notion of universal suffrage or the role of parliaments in law making.

    It is both surprising and unsurprising that neither liberals nor libertarians seem to be questioning the institutional and cultural legacy of the Western liberal revolutions. Even socialists copied a lot of this model (though hollowing out their institutions).

    Liberal institutions didn’t produce the expected results in many countries (Asia, Latin America), but then there was/is the whole issue of colonialism, imperialism and neocolonialism. The West doesn’t need to have serious questions about its institutions and political culture not having ever worked.

    The rise of illiberal populism is a direct result not of the failings of liberal institutions but of the imposition of libertarian economic models after the successful development of welfare states.

    Liberal institutions have taken hold in many countries successfully while in other countries they are being questioned and not always due to populism. The rise of revanchist nationalism due to the particular histories of some countries (eg China and its history of Western humilliation) must be understood in its own sense.

    The cases of Chinese and Japanese nationalism each has its own characteristics but there are similarities all over. Russia and Turkey represent economic revanchism with neoimperialism. Poland and Hungary represent economic revanchism with incomplete liberal cultural transition.

    The US case doesn’t represent incomplete liberal cultural transition (except among marginal groups), neoimperialism or economic or historical nationalist revanchism. US populism both on the left (progressivism) and on the right (demagoguery) is basically nostalgic. And the nostalgia seems to be warranted.

    But there can be no nostalgia for that which didn’t exist. The US has never been fully liberal or fully libertarian. The nostalgia for the mixed economic model of the post-WWII is a nostalgia for policy interventions that work.

    FDR was a radical progressive pragmatist, not an ideologue. He expanded trade, but also curtailed immigration and protected domestic economic interests and labor. He was a hawk in foreign policy while not being a war mongerer or an imperialist. He made many mistakes but always insisted on the importance of experimenting.

    Contemporary liberals are dogmatic and against experimentation. In fact they oppose a great deal of the policies that FDR actually implemented.

    There is a clear globalist cosmopolitan streak in their discourse and a fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamics of globalization (technological change, wealth, debt, the trade deficit) and the US role in the world and how it affects ordinary citizens.

    Too many libertarians on the other hand are embracing the kind of isolationism that the US hasn’t been able to carry out for more than a century due to its status as a global superpower or they are corporate libertarians who think that what matters is to open up foreign markets for US multinationals.

    There are few political forces championing any real middle ground on either domestic or foreign issues. While the US first past the post system should eventually take care of this by forcing politicians to the middle, the current set up of political parties is delaying things.

    Third parties or movements are essential to make way for changes in the internal dynamics of political parties in bipartisan systems. The competition between the parties for the supporters of the third approach eventually leads to one of the two parties becoming significantly dominant and impose its policies. (Trump may be an example of Buchanan-like policies finally prevailing in the GOP but the internal debates inside the administration make it too difficult to tell.)

    Bipartisanship is both a myth or a short term consequence. The bipartisanship that was produced by the New Deal was (or maybe even is) in fact a long period of progressive dominance.

    The narrative of the rise of “neoliberalism” is incomplete or misguided. Neoliberalism didn’t rise because in the West capitalism never went away. What matters is not the rise of capitalism but the decline of the New Deal.

    So for people on the non-socialist left (the left that doesn’t believe in the state owning the means of production) what should matter is not dismantling capitalism and stopping neoliberalism but resurrecting the New Deal in ways that are pertinent to the problems of our days.

    Progressivism means not being nostalgic for solutions of the past. The past should inform current discussions but not dictate future solutions.


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