Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Michael Lind on the Lack of New Ideas in 2016 Election

     I think he touches on some great points. For the record, Lind has always been one of my favorite authors. I'd say he along with Garry Wills have done the most in forming my mature understanding of political philosophy. Here is Lind:

   That's just a couple of his books, I recommend all of his books. Ditto with Wills but this is the book that I feel really lays out a coherent political philsophy.

    In any case, Lind has written a piece that argues that in this election there are no new ideas. The most exotic idea is Lincoln Chafee's call for America finally joining the rest of the world and picking up the metric system. However, as he points out, this is not a new idea but rather a retro idea that was debated a ad nauseum in the 70s. 

   "Whether they are good or bad, most of what will be packaged as fresh, bold, new ideas in public policy put forth by this presidential candidate or that party in the next year and a half will in fact be stale, old, familiar ideas—some better than others"

   "Of all of the ideas offered by candidates for the presidency so far in this year’s cycle, the one that may have received the most attention is Chafee’s proposal that the U.S. join the rest of the world in adopting the metric system. This, of course, is a proposal that was extensively debated in the 1970s. As a new idea that is actually a retro idea, the proposed abandonment of yards for meters illustrates a basic truth about today’s American political debate: There are no new ideas."

    "The minimum wage provides an example. The idea that every worker in the United States should be paid a decent minimum dates back to the living wage movement of the nineteenth century. The federal minimum wage was enacted into law by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Over the intervening decades, the real value of the minimum wage has gone up or down, depending on whether Congress increased it or allowed it to be reduced by cumulative inflation. Raising the minimum wage, a reform favored by most progressives and President Obama, is a good idea, but it is not a new one, given that the federal minimum wage is 77 years old this year."

   Read more:

     But I think that's just the point. It's not about a war of new and old ideas but rather between good and bad ones. Further he argues that liberals are in a sense more conservative:

    "Ironically, given the historic suspicion of institutional innovation by conservatives and their respect for time-hallowed precedent, American conservatives are far more devoted to big new policy ideas than are American progressives. The reason is simple. “Modern Republicans” such as Eisenhower and Nixon who accepted post-New Deal government but wanted to put it on a more solvent basis. But since the Reagan era, most conservatives have been counter-revolutionaries. Their goal has been, not to tweak Social Security and Medicare and other existing economic security programs, but to abolish them and replace them with completely different systems on radically different principles. They reach not for the tweezers but the axe."

     Read more:

    "Yet even the most radical ideas of the right for replacing Social Security, Medicare and public education are far from original. Many of today’s conservative policy ideas, including the replacement of progressive income taxes with a flat tax and the reduction of poverty by use of wage subsidies like the earned income tax credit (EITC), are inspired by Milton Friedman’s book Capitalism and Freedom. Friedman’s book was published in 1962. I was born in 1962. I am not young."

    "The extension of civil rights to gay, lesbian, bi and transgendered Americans is a genuinely revolutionary development. So are many of the debates about the environment and climate change, which involve relatively recent data and some new technologies. As are debates over Internet privacy that would have baffled Americans as recently as the early 1990s."

    "But when it comes to the basic questions of political economy, I can’t think of a single proposal being debated today that is not a variation of an idea proposed or passed into law between the first election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 and the passage of Medicare in 1965, a period that includes Milton Friedman’s influential masterpiece. The nearly five decades since have been marked by the same pattern, in which progressives defend and seek to extend the legacy of the New Deal and Great Society, while conservatives, and some neoliberal “New Democrats,” propose variations of the ideas set forth by Friedman in Capitalism and Freedom."

Read more:

     Great point. I think the demand for constant novelty is naive. There are only so many ideas-just like the demand for novelty in the bedroom is naive; there are only so many sexual positions. 

     Both the good ideas and the bad ideas have been around for a long time. This doesn't diminish the stakes. 

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