Friday, December 18, 2009

Liberal/Conservative Critiques of Corporatism (Edit: Response to Kilgore's Strategic Piece)

(Some edits are below.)

That title is a mouthful, but it gets to my reaction one part of an otherwise-decent piece by Ed Kilgore on the split over LieberCare.

He notes that the distinction is between liberals (I think I can discard "progressive" here) who belong to the Bill Clinton/Tony Blair "third way" camp of regulated private entities providing public services, and other liberals who distrust these sorts of arrangements and this sort of ideology. (Generally because it doesn't work, ends up costing more, and is usually privatization-by-another-name.)

Were this Britain being discussed, this would be simpler, since you would just describe this as the distinction between "neoliberals" and "social liberals". The problem in America is that Americans shoehorn in the useless word "progressive" where the proper label "liberal" should go. There's no such beast as a "social progressive" in the same way that there's a "social liberal".

In any case, here's Kilgore:
To put it more bluntly, on a widening range of issues, Obama's critics to the right say he's engineering a government takeover of the private sector, while his critics to the left accuse him of promoting a corporate takeover of the public sector. They can't both be right, of course, and these critics would take the country in completely different directions if given a chance. But the tactical convergence is there if they choose to pursue it.
Ed, these aren't antithetical. What we're discussing here is corporatism; a kind of synthesis of the public and private sector, creating private monopolies and cartels with enormous government-granted power. Honest conservatives (there are a few) hate it because they don't like government interfering with private enterprise; and social liberals hate it because...

...and let me just emphasize this...


Look, everybody knows that patent, trade and copyright laws are pretty much broken, right? Under the guise of "intellectual property", you have everything from infinitely-extending copyrights to patent "vultures" stifling innovation to Disney suing daycares for daring to put Mickey on the wall. You have pharma corporations tossing man-eating lobbyists at everybody in Washington who even looks at 'em funny, Sony breaking your computer to keep you from putting a CD on your iPod, the horror that is ACTA, and people dying of easily-treated diseases in the third world because of bans on the production of generic drugs.

Well, copyrights, patents, and trades are government-blessed monopolies over copying or producing something. That's all that they are. "Intellectual property" wouldn't exist without the power of government backing it up. While it may have been a good idea to help creators out a bit, we've seen that without very, very careful treatment, it can lead to corps running absolutely wild, and ruining a lot of lives in the process.

(There's nothing unique about this, either. Privatizatized, exclusive providers of public services have spread across the developing world like weeds, thanks to the enduring legacy of the Washington Consensus. They're generally disasters there, too.)

LieberCare is a bit different. Nothing in LieberCare dictates that there must be regional or national monopolies on delivering health care, like with trademarks et al. But that is the logical endpoint of mandated insurance, since it still uses government's power to FORCE contract with a private enterprise. You still end up with government-blessed monopolies stomping on the bank accounts and rights of Americans, but this time in a far more important sector of the economy.

Neither social liberals nor honest conservatives would want this to happen. Conservatives don't want to be forced to contract to anybody, and social liberals want monopolies to be held only by governmental organizations that are ultimately responsible to the public, instead of the shareholders. But this is what will happen, sooner or later, under the Senate's plan.

That's why the public option was so important. This was always a problem. ALWAYS. That has never changed. But as long as there was a public option, even a weak one, one was not forced to contract with a private enterprise. There was always going to be an option, even if all the private companies tried to flow together into cartels and monopolies. There could be no monopoly, as a matter of fact, because there was going to be one stubborn player that would not go with the plan. It was the one thing that made this tolerable.

Now it's gone. Now the game has changed. Now America is looking at decades of mandated corporatism, in the exact period of time where medical care is going to be more important than ever before. "Exchange regulation" isn't going to solve that, any more than hiring more patent examiners would. People need to always have a choice: whether it's at the ballot box, or at the insurance exchange.

Under this plan, sooner or later, they won't have any choice at all.

Edit: Kilgore says that "we don't have the time or energy to spare in dialogues of the deaf wherein we call each other names while getting ready for the elections of 2010 and 2012".

I don't think he quite gets what's going on here.

If there isn't change, and soon, there is no"we". If liberals and progressives aren't convinced that they have a voice in the Democratic party, they are not going to "get ready for the elections of 2010 and 2012". They won't be helping you. At best, they'll be gearing up for as many primary challenges as they can muster. You will be the enemy, not a "we".

That's how bad it has become, it was a long time coming, it transcends this one terrible bit of policy, and you aren't going to paper it over with blog entries.

Re-Edit: Ah, he has a better take on these issues here. He misrepresents Taibbi's critiques, but he seems to understand things better. The biggest problem is that he does not really get into diverging interests. That is the real core difference between Democratic "Villagers" and liberals outside Washington.

The main thing animating the Democratic Villagers is their interest in retaining control of the White House and Congress, since there is an absolute flood of power, influence and (eventually) money that comse from that position. Even if you aren't in politics per se, your "think tanks" and magazines and journals and "Institutes" and whatnot will be far better off with your side in ascendancy.

Progressives and Liberals outside Washington aren't going to enjoy any of this. They aren't going to benefit from this influence. They aren't going to get the front page journal articles, or the sweet lobbying gig, or the shot at a House seat down the road. They have no stake in any of that crap. Their interest is
policy, whether it's foreign, economic, or social policy.

If the Dems make it clear that they will sacrifice progressives' policy goals to retain their power and influence, then it only makes sense that progressives and liberals should threaten to sacrifice the Dems' power and influence to achieve their goals. The Republican base already does this; progressives are realizing that they need to as well. If it takes losses in an election cycle or two to convince the Dems that they have to take progressives into account, and the Dems learn the lesson and change their policymaking calculus for the next twenty cycles, progressives will ultimately be better off.

(So will Dems, of course. But that's a whole different issue. As is the irony of this article being posted in The New Republic, of all places.)

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