Everybody’s a populist

Just about everybody in politics is claiming to be a “populist” these days–leftwinger Elizabeth Warren, rightwinger Ted Cruz, establishment icon Hillary Clinton, the Christian right’s Mike Huckabee, Occupy Wallstreeters, Tea Partiers, and on and on.

Rutgers history professor David Greenberg points out that the term once had a very specific meaning, relating to the farmer/labor coalition against the railroads and bankers in the late 19th century,  as led by William Jennings Bryan.  The ideology combined a type of socialist economics (nationalize the railroads!) with respect for “ordinary” Americans (a man of the people! champion of the common man!).  Today liberals are seizing upon the economic part (while comprising the cultural elite that the old populists scorned), while conservatives are seizing upon the ordinary American part (a demographic that today tends not to like socialism).

But this reminds us that the left owes a big debt to William Jennings Bryan, today often mocked for his creationism at the Scopes Monkey Trial.  And that there was a time when evangelical Christians were often leftists. [Read more...]

Free trade with higher wage countries & the China card

As Democrats make a political point of rejecting the free trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership–to the point of defying the Democratic President–Charles Lane clears up the disinformation being spread about the treaty.

He says that, contrary to the rhetoric,  it won’t lose American jobs by sending industries to lower-wage countries.  Our biggest partners in this agreement, who would open their markets to us, would be Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.  All of which pay  higher wages than the United States!  There are low-wage countries in the pact, such as Mexico and Peru, but we already have free trade agreements with them!

Also, in a column criticizing Hillary Clinton for being silent on a treaty she helped to create, Robert Kagan gives the underlying strategic reason for the Trans-Pacific Partnership:  forging an alliance to counter China. [Read more...]

Obama and Republicans lose on free trade bill

A major priority for President Obama is the passage of the Pacific trade accord, a free trade bill that would open up markets in Asia.  But a proposal to fast-track the treaty–allowing a single up-or-down vote, rather than risking death by a thousand amendments–was defeated in the Senate.  All but one Republican took the President’s side, but all but one Democrat voted against him.  The measure fell short of the 60 votes it needed.  Lots of interesting issues here, which I raise after the jump.

UPDATE:  A deal seems to have been struck that will give the bill another shot.

[Read more...]

Economic discrimination

Apple, Angie’s List, and other companies were threatening to boycott the state of Indiana, thinking its Religious Freedom statute would allow businesses to discriminate against gays.  In doing so, these companies were saying that they have the right to act on their managers’ sincerely held beliefs that they should not do business with those they disapprove of.  But this is exactly what the bakers, photographers, and florists who do not approve of participating in gay marriage want to do!  Why should corporations be allowed to discriminate against an entire state, due to their conflicting beliefs, and individuals not be allowed to?  So observes Jordan Ballor, excerpted after the jump. [Read more...]

Does capitalism undermine traditional values?

The left is always saying that big business really runs this country.  There may be some truth to this claim.  The irony is that big business is supporting the left, at least on social and moral issues.  When corporations from Apple to Walmart turned against Indiana’s religious freedom act to support the gay agenda, notice how Republican politicians fell in line.

Charles Lane says that the Indiana controversy may be the Gettysburg of the Culture Wars, the turning point, after which social conservatives will start retreating until they lose their political clout completely.  He says that modern conservatism has depended on an alliance between pro-business free market advocates and social conservatives.  But this alliance is unstable.  He quotes a scholar who refers to “the cultural contradictions of capitalism,” saying that free market economics ultimately destroys traditional values.

There was arguably a time when capitalism and moral traditionalism went together, when capitalism depended on the values of self-control, restraint, and deferred gratification, as may still apply to small business today.  But today’s consumer capitalism depends on instant gratification, the satisfaction of all desires, and constant change.  Our financial system won’t even pay interest on a savings account, but rather depends on having everything now and going in debt.  This creates a cultural climate, so the argument goes, that will undermine traditional moral values.  But is this correct?  Would any other economic system be any better? [Read more...]

Corporations aren’t funding campaigns after all?

When the Supreme Court ruled that the law limiting corporate contributions was an infringement of the right to free speech, the conventional wisdom was–and is–that now big businesses will buy politicians by funding their elections.  But it hasn’t turned out that way.  Corporations aren’t giving much money at all to political candidates.

The ruling allowing unlimited “corporate” giving–”corporate” meaning collective organizations, not just business corporations–is indeed magnifying the reach of  issue-driven organizations, which would be in accord with free political speech.  And wealthy individuals, such as George Soros and the Koch brothers (notice how those who demonize one don’t demonize the other), can throw their weight around with their money.  One might still worry about the influence of campaign contributions.  But the point here is that business corporations are not, on the whole, giving many political contributions.  They have found that giving money to politicians can just alienate some of their customers and that they can get more influence for their buck by hiring lobbyists. [Read more...]


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