Two Problems with Left Neoliberalism

Left-neoliberal wonks are smart dudes (they’re always dudes), and they’re certainly helpful when it comes to combating the nonsense of right-neoliberal wonks. But they seem to suffer two regular blind spots that are worth noting:

1. One of their favorite things to do is to write a think piece on why this or that popular left policy proposal is misguided or counterproductive, which is welcome in itself. A lot of popular left policy proposals are misguided. But they almost always evaluate the policy proposal as if it exists in a vacuum. Take the Fight for 15, for example. They’ll argue a $15 wage costs jobs. Or that it will spur inflation, especially when it comes to housing costs. Putting aside whether they’re correct—sometimes they might be, sometimes they might not—they rarely stop to ask whether another policy Y can be implemented simultaneously in order to control for the alleged shortfalls of the original policy X. For example, when it comes to the $15 wage, there is an array of options available that can work in unison with the wage hike. Full employment initiatives immediately come to mind. That is, green infrastructure programs, trade deficit reduction (by lowering the value of the dollar), work-sharing, or the government-provided job guarantee. As for housing, a myriad of interventions can be adopted, beginning with community land trusts. The point is that it’s deeply regressive (not to mention dishonest) to presume the status quo as a means of reinforcing the status quo, which is what many of these intelligent left-leaning journalists end up doing.

2. Another one of their favorite, if unconscious, gambits is to assume we live in a world governed by well-meaning technocrats, not to mention a world where preexisting power relations bear little to no relevance to the policy debates at hand. A corollary to this is that the goal is always to separate supposedly “objective” policy debates from the broader corporate influences or populist social movements from which those debates have sprung in the first place. Again, the Fight for 15 is instructive. If one wants to argue that imposing a non-phased (or even phased) $15 wage municipally or nationally doesn’t make sense, that’s all well and good… provided one takes into account my concerns in #1. But one should at least acknowledge that policy proposals are often deployed, first and foremost, as bargaining chips in the perennial struggle between capital and labor. Bernie Sander’s call for a national minimum wage of $15 is a perfect example of this. On the capital side of the house, so is the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan a few years back, which the left-neoliberal Matt Yglesias, tellingly enough, told everyone was aight. To treat Sander’s proposal as a noble but naive misstep is only to reveal the naive (or duplicitous) framework in which one is operating.

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