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Thornton Hall

The Revolution Will Be Kuhnian.

The Agenda

In Three Reasons Liberals Lack Traction With Voters, Despite Conservative Failures, Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect says that Americans distrust liberal solutions so we need to step up and say what we believe. His diagnosis of the cause of public skepticism makes no sense, but he's right to note that now's the time for a positive agenda. Lucky for me, I have one.

Here's Kuttner on the public perception of liberals:

First, the right has been so successful at blocking liberal initiatives to deliver tangible help that the middle class is not sure which party to trust.

Second, compromises like the Affordable Care Act that do make it through Congress are hobbled by a costly and complex role for commercial middlemen—and seem to represent government inefficiency.

And third, the details are wonky.

In other words, govt would work better if you did it our way, but it's complicated, and you wouldn't understand.

Kuttner ends with a (somewhat rote) call to action:

So what’s a liberal to do?

As the party that considers itself responsible stewards of government, Democrats are reluctant to offer proposals that stand no immediate chance of passage. The liberal imagination has been stunted by decades of conservative obstruction and has lost its power to inspire. Most of what ails the middle class requires far more robust policies than are currently in mainstream debate. Liberals should say what they are really for. They might even win more followers.

As a matter of logic, any claim that progressives face a unique challenge at this moment will necessarily identify features unique to our time in history. Yet, the lumpy, compromise nature of the ACA is a cliche of American government. The data bears this out. As I noted here, American faith in government tanked through the W. Administration and has remained flat during Obama's time in office. The ACA is clearly not driving the story.

What is actually unique about the present moment is that faith in government has been brought low deliberately by a cadre of loathsome individuals starting with Wm F Buckley and continuing today with the likes of Grover Norquist, et al. These terrible men succeeded in their effort to make "small government" the unifying element within the GOP. Their success is due, in part, to structural flaws in three institutions--the press, academic economics and academic political science. These flaws only came into existence in the years after WWII and weakened institutions that had previously succeeded in protecting democracy from the assaults of the oligarchs and robber barons who wanted to prevent the New Deal. It was during the next fight, over the Great Society, that a circle of grifters and psychopaths discovered these weaknesses--and found each other--while fighting for the Goldwater campaign. (For a fantastic read, see, The Long Con: Mail Order Conservatism, by Rick Perlstein in The Baffler)

The real challenge facing progressives today is not a public disappointed with the ACA, the real challenge comes from the ongoing efforts of that cadre of grifters and psychopaths, the leaders of what others have labeled "movement conservatism", what is more accurately called "Reaganism".

That's why the crucial first step in my agenda is an effort to fix the defects in the three critical institutions that have been exploited by the Reaganists.

The Agenda


  1. The Triumvirate Of Wrongness: journalism, economics, and political science. See my post here.
  2. Climate change: animals changing the climate is not morally bad, per se. But avoidable human suffering on a mass scale is an issue that we must confront.
  3. Economic Evolution: the conditions that created the broadly shared prosperity of the post war generation have changed. We need to find new means to achieve the same end.
  4. Government needs more employees and far fewer contractors to do the jobs of the 21st Century.
  5. Future health care economy: there's a lack of middle class jobs but also a shortage of trained medical professionals. Medical education is too important to leave to doctors who profit off of scarcity.
  6. Education: high school is not enough. The next step needs to be available and affordable for all. And yet:
    A. State funding of higher education has collapsed,
    B. Student loan debt has exploded, and
    C. Supreme Court moving toward the end of diversity as a value in admissions.
  7. Economic crises are like thunderstorms: impossible to prevent but easy to survive if prepared. Our safety net and fiscal policy needs to ditch wishful thinking and get real.
  8. Money In Politics: currently, the job of a Congressman is to raise money to be re-elected. If she has any spare time she can think about how to confront all the challenges listed above. We need politicians with the time and freedom to learn what they need to know from people who know what they are talking about.

The Solutions

  1. A new paradigm of public life will feature a media with an acknowledged point of view providing information about a political economy explained by economists practicing economic meteorology (not moral philosophy) to American voters who are correctly understood by political scientists as sharing a national ideology but differing in their interests and identities.

    • Journalism: The Internet is eliminating the old regional newspaper monopolies. In their place, we must demand journalists tell us their bias and then tell us the truth. Don't give us anonymous sources; give us links to reports by experts with credentials. We need the return of Nellie Bly, Upton Sinclair, and George Orwell. Put Woodward out to pasture.
    • Economics: When the current paradigm of equilibrium analysis is replaced by agent based models, we will be able to predict economic storms and ditch the efficient markets hypothesis which claims that lots of derivatives are good because "complete" markets are stable. We will realize that:
    • Stability is a function of limiting the connectedness of risk.
    • Being competive means being nimble. Therefore, there is no argument that our financial services companies need to be big to compete globally.
    • Economic crisis are like thunderstorms: impossible to prevent but easy to survive if prepared. Our safety net and fiscal policy needs to ditch wishful thinking and get real.
    • Political science: no amount of research into ideology will illuminate the behavior of an electorate that is sorted by interests and identities, not ideology. Ideology is the four humours model of American politics. In reality, most Americans share a single ideology: liberal democratic capitalism. Our debates are productive when we recognize this and move on to empirical debates about the best methods to achieve our mutual goals. Getting to that point may take the end of the GOP and the rise of a new reality-based opposition party. In the meantime, journalists and oligarchs pursuing their own selfish ends will continue to insist there is a deep debate about the legitimate scope of the federal govt. See my post on Matt Yglesias's confusion on this matter here. The new journalism, freed from the faith that every story has two equal and opposed sides, will likely do a better job of finding the many academics see things correctly.
  2. Climate Change:

    • Make clean energy less expensive to consumers than dirty energy by taxing carbon, subsidizing clean energy, and investing in energy research.
    • Embrace Livible Density by:
    • upzoning the Economic Engine Cities of Minneapolis, Boston, DC, San Francisco, etc.
    • Mandating construction of less desirable housing by requiring every luxury condo to come with a far less desirable mini-condo so the poor live in the same places with the same amenities, just less space.
  3. Economic Evolution:

    • See 2 (above): dense cities raise productivity and innovation and if the same neighborhoods include both luxury units and affordable micro units the benefits are shared to some extent.
    • New middle wage jobs provided by government:
    • Teacher at federal college.
    • Lawyer at local federally funded legal aid society.
  4. Less outsoucing of government. It's not freedom. It's shitty.
    Re-staff government with actual employees.
    • Soldiers, not mercenaries.
    • Staff regulatory agencies with sufficent numbers to do job.
    • See, also: 3, 5, 7.
  5. Federalize medical education: If federal funding for residencies is what determines class size Keep Funding Residencies, Says AMA then we should decide how many and what kinds of doctors we need and pay for it.
  6. Reimagine higher education completely:

    • New question: "Everyone is qualified for post-secondary education by virtue of being an American, what do they need and how do we provide it free of charge?" No more, "How do we make college affordable and how do we reach a diverse population with persistant gaps in 'qualifications'?"
    • Accept the landscape of "colorblind" justice: diversity in college admissions won't get any easier. The problem is a world where only certain people "qualify" for acceptance to public education.
    • Stop re-engineering a model originally designed to train monks.
    • End distinction between lower and higher education in state constitutions. Constitutional guaranteed education through professional training.
    • Federally design and fund college based on the needs of high school graduates. Create one new "federal college" in every state, starting with one attached to every national lab (stop contracting out management of labs to private companies).
    • Pay good wage to teachers in courses from humanities to flabotomy, civil engineering to car repair.
    • Separate the role of teacher and researcher. Allow, but do not require overlap.
    • Pay for humanities teachers, not humanities publishing.
    • Private colleges can continue to do whatever they want.
    • Phase out federal subsidies of student loans.
  7. Give population and policy makers the tools to weather economic crises that will come whether we like it or not.

    • Create Universal Basic Income.
    • Age 18 through death.
    • End TCA, SNAP, Unemployment Insurance, Disability (SSI and SSDI).
    • Continue Social Security Retirement, Various Health Care entitlements.
    • Create Counter-cyclical Infrastructure Bank.
    • Tasked with investing in infrastructure at a rate inverse proportional to interest rates.
    • Prioritize facilitating urban density.
    • Funded with transactions tax.
  8. Fix money in politics on the demand side.

    • Accept the free speech fetishists on the Supreme Court; Citizens United is a fact, therefore restricting donations is not the solution.
    • Still, instant disclosure of donations is good idea.
    • Make campaigns less expensive.
    • time restriction: primary and general w/I one month of each other.
    • require free advertising over public airwaves (radio and tv).
    • future campaigns will be online, time to legally require free access is now. Convene panel of tech experts to identify where the costs will be and how to prevent them.

Economists Claim To Know The Future With Absolute Certainty

There Is No "Real Ideological Debate" Because Americans Share A Common Ideology