“Republicans Move to Reclaim Poverty Fighting Mantle.” No joke. This was the real title of a real article in today’s New York Times. Say what?
At first I thought, mistakenly it turns out, that perhaps the authors of the article had read my book, Commonwealth: Why Democrats are Republicans and Why Republicans are Neither (2013). Could it be that some Republicans were actually promoting or defending “the wealth we hold in common,” which is what the Latin phrase “res public” actually means? No. Republicans have turned their backs on this notion so completely that they look like Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.” What Republicans mean by “Republican” is not-the-wealth-we-hold-in-common-but-the-wealth-we-hold-privately, i.e., the very opposite of republican.
I am all with them when Republicans point out that the Democrat-sponsored anti-poverty programs have not worked. That is a simple fact. The Democrats have relied upon a neo-Keynesian economic model that really cannot function in the absence of enthusiastic political support for dramatic public intervention. Because this enthusiastic political support has been lacking among Democratic politicians, who lack the understanding and the will to advance serious World War II-variety public economic stimulus, the far better organized and far more enthusiastic Republican politicians have repeatedly beat them to the punch. And because, like everything else, information in the United States is now completely controlled by and in the interests of private enterprise, Democratic rhetoric has necessarily drifted to the demographic sweet spot, just left of the Mean, where they can garner fifty-one percent of the vote. Unfortunately, this “sweet spot” is virtually indistinguishable on economic matters from Frederick von Hayek or Ludwig von Mises. Thus, the US fields a band of Democratic candidates every two years that is significantly to the right of Germany’s Christian Democrats or Great Britain’s Conservatives. That the policies of this band of Right-Wing Democrats have failed should therefore be taken as a criticism not of neo-Keynesianism, which persists only in rhetoric, not in policy, but of the neoliberalism that has been the centerpiece of Democratic policy as far back as Jimmy Carter.
So, what do the Republicans propose? Well, since more and more privatization, deregulation, and un- or under-funded mandates have not worked; since lower and lower wages and benefits have not worked; since the privatization of public education has not worked — here is what the Republicans propose: they propose even more privatization, deregulation, under-funded state mandates, lower wages and benefits, and increasing privatization. That’s what they propose.
No. I’m serious. That’s what they believe will work. Notwithstanding two centuries of counterfactuals, the Republicans actually believe that wages have not dropped far enough, that investors still do not enjoy sufficient freedom where to place their investments, that industries do not yet enjoy sufficient global freedom, and that the public still exercises far too much control over private capital — all of which explains the persistence of poverty in America. Wow!
Now, what is remarkable (and it truly is remarkable!) is that, even though they own all of the main information outlets (including NPR and PBS; come-on, look at the corporate sponsors), most Americans would still support genuine, public, rigorous neo-Keynesian policies, if only Democratic candidates had the cojones to propose such policies. They don’t. Which is why the Republicans just might succeed in reclaiming the poverty-fighting mantle. For there just might be enough poor, Fox-TV watching Americans who will say to themselves, “Hey, that’s right. We still are poor. Maybe the Republicans are right. Maybe we need lower wages, fewer benefits, less regulation, lower taxes, and fewer public services. Maybe that will lift us out of poverty.”
For those of you who are new to my blog, I am writing today from Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country poorer than Greece, poorer than Ukraine, whose workers earn, on average .67 Eurocents per hour. On neoliberal assumptions, wealth should be pouring into Bosnia and Herzegovina simply to take advantage of the low wages. But, an interesting thing happens on the way to such lower wages — once the public is so completely disempowered, the private oligarchy takes control. And they take control not simply of what little industry remains, but also of the few public institutions that remain. The oligarchy now completely dominates the legislature. They control the media. They control institutions of higher education. And they control what little private industry remains; which means, of course, that no international investor in their right mind would trust their capital to the vagaries of these oligarch’s empires.
This is America’s future. It is a completely privatized world’s future. This is where Paul Ryan’s hallucination will lead the United States.
Yes, the Democrats’ policies have been a complete failure. And, yes, this opens the door for Republicans to spuriously reclaim the poverty-fighting mantle. So, where are the Democrats or Socialists with sufficient backing and will and knowledge to propose a real alternative?