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September 4, 2017


I found this Guardian article informative and, more to the point, uplifting. Given the current political trajectory in the United States, which is little more than a continuation of the late-1970s and the Ronald Reagan era, it is heartening to know that millennials are, at the very least, fed up. Not only with the results, but they are also, to a degree, fed up with what produced them. This is progress.

As mentioned in the article, a recent survey of young adults by Harvard University found that 51 percent do not support capitalism, with 42 percent supporting it. At the same time, there is increasing interest in looking critically at the major policy concerns—financial regulation and healthcare, especially—that affect the working class. The poll seems to indicate an overall dismay with corporate greed and financial instability, not a wholesale rejection of free enterprise.

I'm generally hesitant with the words "socialism" and "capitalism." These terms of art pertain to political economy, and over the years have been stripped of any useful meaning. Much like "liberal" and "conservative," they have become team names.

Particularly in the United States, "capitalism" denotes the way "we" do things (which is closer to corporatism). On the obverse, there is "socialism," denoting the way "they" do things, traditionally meaning Soviet-styled "communism" (which was little more than highly centralized state-capitalism).

By extension, philosophers Adam Smith and Karl Marx were assigned patronal status to represent each system, respectively. That this was based on a misreading (or non-reading) of both thinkers was always irrelevant, their actual writings deemed incidental.

Because of the potency of ideology, the Cold War us-them formulation worked well, simultaneously encouraging voter support of policies that were harmful to the population, while discouraging criticism of said policies, even muted consideration of alternatives. Upholding at the same time freedom and compliance has been a longstanding schizophrenic reality in American culture.

Three generations later, the facts are in and being felt everyday. The currents that have benefitted a few—deregulation, tax cuts, anti-unionism, privatization—were and are sold as beneficial for everyone. But the results simply do not square with the rhetoric. Moreover, there has been a general hesitancy to see or voice this fact. Again, ideologies like nationalism ("capitalism" being a key ingredient) are a potent force; adding a racial dimension, used handily by the Republican Party, makes them even more so.

Millennials seem able and willing to question the false catechism held dear by the Baby Boomers and the subsequent generation to which I belong. Likewise, minority groups show the same inclination to support policies that are beneficial for them. Taken in aggregate, I dare say, the future might be less overcast.

Three points touched upon in the article that I feel are important: (1) Progressives need to talk to Trump supporters and working class people who self-describe as "conservative." Much is shared in common by these two groups. (2) If progressive politics in America is going to be labeled "socialism" (which, for what it's worth, I'd prefer it wasn't), it cannot be smothered by intellectuals and radicals fixated on theory and the sound of their own voices. Given the opportunity, they will strangle the hope of anything ever getting accomplished. And (3), if there is an "entry point," it seems plausible that it will be the healthcare issue. The public pays taxes; the public should receive services—something Adam Smith would have no problem with.

If movement in this direction is to be effective, keeping these points in mind will be vital. Progressivism should always be inclusive, practical, and specific. In other words, the very things we have gotten wrong for decades now.

An unintended but pertinent topic on this Labor Day.

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