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December 08, 2006

« Outsiders and the marginal | Main | Rural creativity »

Much has been made of the rise of economic populism among the Democrats. To my mind, this is a trend to be very nervous about. In fact, the way I see it, the left-wing populists and right-wing social conservatives are birds of a feather. Brink Lindsay's recent comment -"Here, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, the rival ideologies of left and right are both pining for the '50s. The only difference is that liberals want to work there, while conservatives want to go home there"- nails it.

Both play off the fears and anxieties of those who are being left behind by the current economic transformation. The social conservatives have used everything from family values to gay and immigrant bashing to mobilize so-called "Reagan Democrats. Their left-wing counterparts do the same with a Lou Dobbs-style populism bordering on economic nationalism. To dial into the emerging populist zeitigest, check out David Sirota's glowing review of Lou Dobb's book and his post today about how populist Democrat freshman came out guns blazing after Robert Rubin. 

Both are at odds with the Creative Economy. The social conservatives would kill it by stamping out diversity and openness, economic populists by erecting barriers to globalization and immigration. Instead, we need to take an historical cue from FDR who extended the Industrial Economy to rank and file industrial workers. Today, we need to extend the Creative Economy in analogous fashion, ensuring that industrial workers and especially the swelling ranks of service sector workers can participate in and benefit from the Creative Economy.

A year or so I wrote this essay with Jerry Mayer, the talented young political historian who is my George Mason colleague, charting three scenarios where our politics might be headed.

Download the_unsettled_future_of_american_politics.pdf

What do you think?


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mark safranski

All disconnection requires regimentation by the state. Or effectively severe social sanction (up to and including acts of private violence).

The original populists had many things wrong in their futile resistance to the emerging world of industrial capitalism, but to associate them with a fool like Lou Dobbs is unfair.

At least the Alliancemen, Wheelers, Free Silverites and sundry offered constructive alternatives, however unworkable, like the subtreasury plan and cooperatives. Dobbs, Buchanan and the anti-Globo leftists are simply reactionaries offering nothing but negativity, the heavy hand of the state, and fear.

Brian Knudsen

It might be fair to say that the term "globalization" has been so thoroughly evacuated of all meaning and context so as to be currently meaningless. For instance, if "globalization" refers to the free movement of people and ideas, then certainly just about every person on the left would be for that - as anarchist (ex-professor at Yale) David Graeber championed on the Charlie Rose program this year. However, if this is indeed how we define globalization, then Robert Rubin, Thomas Friedman, and other proponents of the neo-liberal Washington Consensus should appropriately be called anti-globalization. Because, their version effectively traps people in countries, decimates social safety nets, and frees up capital to hop-scotch around the globe unhindered. They cynically call this "globalization", but the "anti-globo" leftists as the previous commenter called them are sophisticated enough to see through it. Any true vision of globalization would marry open borders with vigilence against this sort of naked corporate exploitation. Isn't some sort of global New Deal in order here? I think David Harvey suggested that in one of his recent books.


Mark and Brian-- Terrific comments. What keeps me up at night is a potential alliance between right-left reactionary forces - Dobbs meets Buchanan meets Santorum --economic nationalism joins family values - in an all out attach on modern economics (globalization) and "progressive" values (tolerance, self-expression, gay rights). It has happened before, if not here, certainly elsewhere.

Mark - Good point about the original "populists." My post was about current day economic populists/ economic nationalists,though we do take on the original populists in our essay.

Brian - You are absolutely right to focus in on what is meant by globalization. And to be concerned about the myths of flat-world like painless adjustment offered up by Friedman and company. Globalization, left to its own devices as we both know, causes severe concentration of resources, wealth and the like both by "class" and within city-regions: The world really is spiky after all. I'm not so sure though that all on the left would support free and unfettered movement of capital and people. Many, as I understand them, would seek to limit both, forcing companies to keep capital here at home, limiting inward foreign investment, and also erecting barriers to immigration. That's sort of what economic nationalism is all about. It would be damaging to the US, the world economy and to people here and around the world.

You are right on target with your call for a New Deal. I mentioned FDR in my post and talk about this in the last chapter of Flight. What is so important about the New Deal is that it sought to simultaneously deepen the Industrial Age dynamic and to spread its benefits to the working class. It was an institutional solution to concentration by class and region which worked to spread the benefits of the system while increasing its productivity and performance, ushering in the golden age of fordism.

This time the New Deal needs to be a global one... What worries me is that while the right blathers on about family values and the left about populism restraining "big-bad" companies and the minimum wage, NO ONE in either party is talking about this.

I've been trying to rewrite the end bit of Flight as an agenda for the creative age; you're comments are encouraging me to get that done in the next week or so, and certainly before the next Congress takes office.

Sean Sauve

How's about you stop pushing your 'creative' bias and agenda on the rest of us. Your infusing of the creative class onto the industrial rank and file speaks of bigotry and pride.

Sean Sauve

What erks me most about pro-globalization rhetoric is that the sources of it's spirit derive from deep-seated wishes to be free from oppression. These days the so called globalizers use the rhetoric of the opressed to defend their "right" to underpay, overworker, and bribe foreign governments. To be fair, multi-national corporations have helped the spread of material attainability to otherwise poor nations. All that your people ask for is a more universal standard of employment practices. It goes to say that if we would not work for so little as 20 cents an hour, we should not expect our neighbor to do so. To do otherwise is not only unkind, but also to do as many companies do today is downright theft of labour. To purchase goods stolen in this way from foreign workers is likened to nothing less than possession of stolen property.


Sean - Good comments. I understand what you mean when you say "creative class bias." But honestly that's not my intention.

Let me just take a minute to explain where my approach comes from. See, it really isn't about latte-swilling yuppies at all. The core of my theory says that every single human being is creative and that they real key is to stoke the creative furnace deepwithing each and every person.

I actually learned about creativity from rank and file factory workers. I saw it first hand in my studies of Toyota and other high-performance manufacturers during the 1980s and 1990s. Instead of seeing rank and file workers as mere physical labor, hands, and backs and legs; these companies developed mechanisms to systematically tap and harness the knowledge and creativity of their workers. At I/N Tek a joint venture steel mill in Indianna I saw how the factory itself had been transformed into a "living laboratory."

But in the first instance I learned about the power of shop-floor creativity from my father, who with an 8th great education worked in a eyeglass factory for his entire life. When we visited the factory he told me: "it's not the machines and technology that matter, it's the knowledge, intelligence and creativity of the people who work here."

What my theory says is we have to tap the creativity everyone, we can't build a society on the backs of the 30 percent of people who are fortunate enough to work in the creative economy. And in particular, we have to extend the real benefits of creative work to everyone in manufacturing and also those who toil for even less in the service economy.

We need a new Creative Compact which allows everyone to participate, taps their creativity, improves productivity and raises living standards.

I look forward to our continuing dialogue on this most essential issue. And thanks again for your candid and important comments.

Michael Bindner

The populists do have a point, which is why working on rewards within the workplace is so important. See my web page for details.

Michael Bindner

Try this link instead.

Michael Bindner

See this link for basic assumptions on corporate governance and profit distribution.

Tapart News Editor

The USA has gone through the most massive dislocation of jobs in its history including the Great Depression. Millions have lost their jobs with one third of all those who were 55 or more never finding another one.
These millions do not care about definitions and parties especially those who lost everything they spent a live time to save.
Close to 50% of all small business owners have maxed out their credit cards trying to stay afloat. The drop out rate for new businesses is in the 80% bracket after three years in business.
Personal and business bankruptcies have broken records for years.

And today in the Free Trade Globalist Flat World economy without borders, the money spent at the retail level does not stay here in the USA to grow our economy but quickly fans out to the places where the products are made. There, workers can not afford to buy the things they make let alone have anything left over to buy whatever the U.S. may have left to sell.
Under the guise of so called Free Trade, the factories are ready to be moved again and again if the natives get too restless in their demands for social justice.
Meanwhile, in the USA, it is silly to have research and development especially if paid by the taxpayers if the production phase goes outside the USA. In the end workers pay to lose their jobs.
Teddy Roosevelt portrayed true Populism when he said his worst fear for America is when government and big business become as one.
For more information, see Tapart News and Art that Talks at http://tapsearch.com/tapartnews
http://tapsearch.com/flatworld and do not pass on the false parables of false Free Trader prophets.

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