Grievance is the electricity of the powerless. It energizes masses. Yet, lacking bright vision, cursing the overlords cannot become a political program. Cures need calm confidence. Complaint awakens protest, but it is insufficient for transformation. Escaping dark plagues begins collective action; spying Canaan must follow.
In our dour moment in which citizens of all stripes are taking to the streets, the plazas, and the parks, we see accusing placards, but no persuasive manifestos. As sociologist William Gamson has pointed out, the first step is to demonstrate an “injustice frame” as a precursor to action. Point taken, but it is a start.
Despite their manifold and manifest differences, the polyester Tea Party and the scruffy Occupy Wall Street protests have at least this in common: palpable anger and resentment. We feel at the mercy of distant puppet masters, and elites in pinstripes and in gowns have much to answer for.
Neither the Partiers nor the Occupiers are wrong to recognize the sway of elites, even if they are not sufficiently aware of those powers that stand behind their own movements: David Koch, the Alliance for Global Justice, and FreedomWorks. Anti-elites are the playthings of the powerful.
Yet, despite their backers, both the Partiers and the Occupiers are solidly 99%’ers. Both radicals of the left and upstarts of the right think that there is not so much difference between the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration. The oil establishment and the financial services establishment could share breakfast of caviar and champagne, discussing whether their interests are better served by this president or the last one. Peasants with pitchforks are on no guest lists, whether they dress in denim or dacron. Despite partisan bickering, it is easy to feel that on the basic issues of security and capital the gap between competing establishments is small. I am struck by how little fundamental restructuring, hope and change has brought. The same powers will control health care, energy development, and financial services.
The fatal illusion of the Tea Party Movement is that America . . .
Read more: The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street: Unhappy Warriors
Beyond the 1937-like craze in Congress today over cutting the budget deficit, there is a more serious debate going on in the US over how to stimulate aggregate economic demand in order to spur more rapid job growth. In this debate, there are competing views over whether to raise spending or cut taxes – sometimes referred to as left Keynesians and right Keynesians. Macroeconomists have mainly favored the spending route because the historical evidence is that spending gives more bang for the deficit buck since the initial impact brings a one-for-one boost to demand, while a tax cut initially loses some bang because tax cut recipients initially save a part of their higher disposable income. But there is agreement among those who engage in this debate that tax cuts too will stimulate demand and job growth, especially when they are aimed at lower income Americans who spend more of their disposable income on the margin than do the rich.
In fact, the greatest moment of success of Keynesian policy in the history of the United States is not the New Deal, as is often claimed by proponents of greater deficit spending in the current crisis. The height of the influence and success of Keynesian policy advisers was the Kennedy administration’s income tax cut of $13.5 billion over three years. The policy was strongly urged by President Kennedy’s Council of Economic Advisers, led by the great American Keynesian economists James Tobin, Walter Heller and Arthur Okun. Facing unemployment rates around 7 percent, the economists sought to bring it down to 4 percent. By early 1964 (after Kennedy’s death), the proposal was passed into law. The tax cut is attributed with moving the economy to 4 percent unemployment and a very high rate of capacity utilization. In his history of that era, Michael Bernstein (A Perilous Progress) writes that “by the fall of 1964 the success of the tax cut was so apparent that, in the words of Arthur Okun, ‘economists were . . .
Read more: Do the Right Thing: Responding to the Economic Crisis
As a rule, we do not post on weekends. But because of the rapidly approaching hurricane and the likelihood of a power outage, I offer today these thoughts inspired by Michael Corey’s last Deliberately Considered post, celebrating the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the Washington Mall, and by Cornel West’s op.ed. piece criticizing the Memorial and Barack Obama in yesterday’s New York Times. -Jeff
I am not a big fan of Cornel West. I liked and learned from his book The American Evasion of Philosophy, but most of his other books and articles involve, in my judgment, little more then posturing and preaching to the converted (I in the main am one of them). He does not take seriously the challenges political life presents. As he shouts slogans, cheers and denounces, I am not sure that he persuades. His and Travis Smiley’s ongoing criticism of President Obama seem to me to be first personal, then political, more the work of celebrity critics than critical intellectuals. That said, I think West’s op.ed. piece has a point, though not as it is directed against Obama and against the importance of symbolism.
“The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy…
As the talk show host Tavis Smiley and I have said in our national tour against poverty, the recent budget deal is only the latest phase of a 30-year, top-down, one-sided war against the poor and working people in the name of a morally bankrupt policy of deregulating markets, lowering taxes and cutting spending for those already socially neglected and economically abandoned. Our two main political parties, each beholden to big money, offer merely alternative versions of oligarchic rule.”
This is unserious. The two parties are very different, and Obama has clearly been trying to address the needs of the socially and economically abandoned in his battle against the Republicans and so called moderate Democrats in Congress: on healthcare policy, financial regulation and jobs. A debt default would not only have hurt Wall Street and Main Street businesses. It would have profoundly affected the poor and working people for . . .
Read more: In Review: Cornel West, Barack Obama and the King Memorial