Hard times

I mean, it’s all relative, right? Things are pretty good here in Ottawa, all things considered. The weather is getting nice, the food is good, the people are nice, and my infant son is healthy. And the dentist told me yesterday that my teeth are looking good!

I don’t really know what I’m doing with my life sometimes. For sure, I’m resisting the urge to go back to working in restaurants. That work is there, though, and I could surely use the money. I dream about applying to PhD programs in philosophy, but that always seems totally ridiculous to me.

In general, the world seems like it’s going crazy these days.

After last night’s Democratic debate in Brooklyn, it seems like Hillary Clinton might not make it out of the convention after all. John Judis at Talking Points Memo is getting concerned about her inability to put the Goldman Sachs speeches behind her, and Vox has declared Bernie Sanders (and the Fight for 15 movement) winners of the debate. Conservative writer John Podhoretz called the debate “old people yelling” – and he wasn’t all that far off base, either. The Democratic party keeps on feeling to me like a sinking ship – if the establishment was really behind Clinton, then where are they? Paul Krugman is losing his credibility with the left defending her.

Rising star economist J.W. Mason, in an interview over at Jacobin, actually puts his finger on the situation:

…a full-employment, rapidly-growing economy is much better for working people.

It gives more bargaining power to people in the workplace. That has an immediate effect of higher incomes, but it also has a longer-term effect, in terms of power and hierarchy in society.

I think there’s a persuasive argument that a lot of the new social movements of the sixties and seventies were the fruit of an extended period of very rapid growth and very low unemployment. You had a setting in which people didn’t worry about getting fired because there were tons of jobs for people without credentials. You could say to your boss, “take this job and stuff it,” walk out and get another.

You read this stuff about the early seventies and it’s a different world. There’s space for other kinds of politics, other kinds of transformations in the workplace if people are not in a constant state of fear that their basic material needs are not going to be met.

That’s the actual stakes in this debate over growth rates. It’s not what the number of GDP is going to be, but are we going to have an economy that’s running at a strong enough pace that it needs enough workers to create a stronger bargaining position and that sense of security.

Although what Mason is arguing for is economic policies that would bring about a space for transformational politics, I would say that this is precisely why Delong and Krugman and others in the center left have been so strident arguing against the policies advocated by Sanders and the left – they know very well that economic growth is technically achievable at the rates estimated by Gerald Friedman except that it is only achievable by political means, and those means are effectively vetoed by the right, and have been since the 1970s, because so many voters don’t want that sort of change. On the other hand, this is also why Sanders is so compelling to the left – he wants a return to those very politics.

One of the big reasons why I’m supportive of the status quo, despite all its injustices, is because I am afraid to see my parents – and many of their friends and colleagues – lose their pensions and their health care. So many folks in my parents generation are nearly to retirement, and there are people on the political right who would be only too happy to deprive them of their security. And there are a great many people who are not that much older than myself who have worked long and hard to get themselves into middle class respectability – revolutionary politics can risk all of that. But as I go over these arguments, I have begun to wonder – is this all just vanity?

And where does that leave me? I’ve supported Hillary Clinton this far, and I don’t see myself switching allegiances to the Sanders side of the Presidential nomination. For all the furor over the Democratic nomination, I haven’t seen any signs of change on the ground. People are tired and they want to go to sleep.

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