Who is the economy for?

Good stuff from Tim Wu.  Was going to put this in quick hits, but I’ve been so bad at posting lately, just a quick excerpt of some good stuff:

Europeans often describe the United States as a great place to buy stuff but a terrible place to work. They understand the appeal of our plentiful and affordable consumer goods, but otherwise they just don’t get it: the lack of real vacation, the sending of emails after business hours, the general insensitively to work-life balance.

That may be just a casual observation, but it identifies something deep and problematic about the economy that the United States has built over the past 40 years.

Since the 1980s, American economic policy has insisted on the central importance of two things: cheaper prices for consumers and maximum returns for corporate shareholders. There is some logic to this: We all buy things, after all, and most of us own at least some stock.

But these priorities also generate an internal conflict, for they neglect, repress and even enslave our other selves: our identities as employees, producers, family members, citizens. And in recent years — as jobs become increasingly unpleasant and unstable, as smaller towns and regional economies are gutted, as essential industries like the pharmaceutical and telecommunications sectors engage in outlandish profiteering, and above all, as economic inequality becomes the trademark of our nation — the conflict seems to have reached a breaking point. [emphasis mine]

It wasn’t always this way. For most of American history, it would have been strange to suggest that buying things — as opposed to making them — was deserving of high regard or to suggest that the availability of cheap goods should be a major goal of economic policy. Most Americans were small farmers, craftsmen or merchants, and a person’s economic identity was typically that of a producer or a landowner. Macroeconomic policy, such as it was, consisted of trade policy and the protection of the liberties necessary to do business (such as protections from monopolies).

That changed over the course of the 20th century. Broadly speaking, it was the story of the rise of American consumer culture, the decline of farming, the spread of mass production to household goods and the birth of advertising. But the specific prioritization of consumers and shareholders in economic policy dates from the 1970s and ’80s, in what amounted to a mostly well-intentioned project gone too far.

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A nation of immigrants; and those afraid of them

One of the reasons I’ve been behind on blogging is due to my first-ever trip to New York City the weekend before this one to see my little sister get married.  Took along just my intrepid first-born (and trusty reader of this blog) and damn did we see everything we could in 60 hours.  Short version: I love New York.  Among the things I loved was that it is just such an amazing melting pot of culture and people from all over this country and all over the world.  How can you not love that?  Well, I guess you can be a rural conservative who finds all of that off-putting and scary.  I found it exciting, encouraging, and energizing. And here’s my very own photo of the Statue of Liberty taken from the Staten Island ferry (free and fun!).

I cannot believe it took me 47 years to get to NYC– but I will definitely be back in less time.

Anyway, all this thinking about immigration and who we are as a country reminded me of this excellent Will Wilkinson column from earlier this month, “Conservatives Are Hiding Their ‘Loathing’ Behind Our Flag: The molten core of right-wing nationalism is the furious denial of America’s unalterably multiracial, multicultural national character.”

Yet the question of who “we” are as “a people” is the central question on which we’re polarized. High-minded calls to reunite under the flag therefore tend to take a side and amount to little more than a demand for the other side’s unconditional surrender. “Agree with me, and then we won’t disagree” is more a threat than an argument.

The way the nationalist sees it, liberals always throw the first punch by “changing things.”When members of the “Great American Middle” (to use the artfully coded phrase of Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri to refer to nonurban whites) lash out in response to the provocations of progressive social change, they see themselves as patriots defending their America from internal attack.

The attackers — the nature-denying feminists, ungrateful blacks, babbling immigrants, ostentatiously wedded gays — bear full responsibility for any damage wrought by populist backlash, because they incited it by demanding and claiming a measure of equal freedom. But they aren’t entitled to it, because the conservative denizens of the fruited plain are entitled first to a country that feels like home to them. That’s what America is. So the blame for polarizing mutual animosity must always fall on those who fought for, or failed to prevent, the developments that made America into something else — a country “real Americans” find hard to recognize or love.

The practical implication of the nationalist’s entitled perspective is that unifying social reconciliation requires submission to a vision of national identity flatly incompatible with the existence and political equality of America’s urban multicultural majority. [emphases mine] That’s a recipe for civil war, not social cohesion…

Mr. Levin suggested that a genuinely conservative nationalism, in the context of a vast national territory with an immense multiethnic population, would refrain from uprooting these traditions and communities and seek instead to preserve them in a vision of the nation as “the sum of various uneven, ancient, lovable elements,” because we are “prepared for love of country by a love of home.”

But what, today, do Americans call “home”? The next logical step would be to observe that the contemporary sum of rooted, lovable American elements includes the black culture of Compton, the Mexican culture of Albuquerque, the Indian culture of suburban Houston, the Chinese culture of San Francisco, the Orthodox Jewish culture of Brooklyn, the Cuban culture of Miami and the “woke” progressive culture of the college town archipelago, as well as the conservative culture of the white small town. But Mr. Levin, a gifted rhetorician who knew his audience, did not hazard this step…

The molten core of right-wing nationalism is the furious denial of America’s unalterably multiracial, multicultural national character. This denialism is the crux of the new nationalism’s disloyal contempt for the United States of America.

We are a nation of immigrants from all over the damn world of all colors, creeds, and languages.  That only those from long-ago western European, Christian stock are the “real” Americans is as un-American idea as there is.

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