June 10, 2013

Are there "left-neoliberals"? Would they include the likes of The Nation?

If you agree with this provocative piece by Warren Benn Michaels, as I do, you'll agree that those two rhetorical questions both deserve "yes" answers.

First, Benn defines the issue of left-neolibs versus right-neolibs
The differentiation between left and right neoliberalism doesn’t really undermine the way it which it is deeply unified in its commitment to competitive markets and to the state’s role in maintaining competitive markets. For me the distinction is that “left neoliberals” are people who don’t understand themselves as neoliberals. They think that their commitments to anti-racism, to anti-sexism, to anti-homophobia constitute a critique of neoliberalism. But if you look at the history of the idea of neoliberalism you can see fairly quickly that neoliberalism arises as a kind of commitment precisely to those things.

He then ties that to immigration in general, and illegal immigration in particular.

Here's your money graf.
"It’s a striking fact that what the American Left mainly wants to do is reduce the Tea Party to racists as quickly as humanly possible. ... But you can’t understand the real politics of the Tea Party unless you understand how important their opposition to illegal immigration is. Because who’s for illegal immigration? As far as I know only one set of people is for illegal immigration, I mean you may be [as a Marxist], but as far as I know the only people who are openly for illegal immigration are neoliberal economists."
And, that's why I could, to some degree, define the likes of The Nation as "left neoliberals" by his terms. Remember that big brouhaha several years ago when it had that long immigration article that, among other things, didn't distinguish legal and illegal immigrants?

Indeed, one Nation blogger really, really, doesn't like Michaels' writings. Richard Kim says:
From where does this seething, misplaced, amnesiac resentment, so often masquerading as class-consciousness (see Walter Benn Michaels) and fairness, come? 

A more nuances reaction, within the Michaels piece, comes from someone I like a lot, Doug Henwood. The interviewer notes:
Doug Henwood, for example, mentioned, “Walter Benn Michaels doesn’t always phrase things to his advantage—he aims to provoke, which is an impulse I deeply understand, but he may end up putting people off who should really listen to what he has to say.”
I don't know enough about Michaels to say whether that's that true, but I'll take Henwood's word for it. Michaels admits he writes "sharply," and on purpose. 

Michaels reminds us that statistics tell us not to view economic inequality through left-neoliberal victimization, or to think that the Tea Party's railings against "handouts" that stereotypically go to black and brown minorities is true:
Victimization that does not take place through discrimination is invisible and that’s why it’s worth remembering that the vast majority of poor people in the country are White. After all, the country is about 70 percent white and if you look at the bottom quintile of income it’s about 61 percent white, so it’s an absolute majority. 
And, it's not just stereotypical white Appalachia, either.

Read the full piece for more insights, including rejecting the idea that treating the poor as an "identity group," kind of like Gordon Brown did in Britain, is the logical solution.

I would like to be less pessimistic than Michaels. But, in an America where probably half the decent-paying new jobs in America, outside the financial manipulation sector, are defense, spying, or extractive industries that suck workers dry, it's hard not to be depressed.

And, maybe, just maybe, we should put Glenn Greenwald in those left-neoliberals. That's if, despite his protestations, we don't call him a libertarian, undiluted, instead.

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