Thursday, May 28, 2009

What does it mean to be 'slightly left of centre' today?

Today, I noticed that Angry Bear's website promises "slightly left of center economic commentary on news, politics, and the economy."

What does such a claim mean? Do the writers there aspire to only a slight tweaking of our economic system? Are their words a prayer for business as usual, but with social security payments and a public medical system thrown in?

Tell me how will 'slightly left' folks address a new world of dramatic and abrupt climate change? Will the 'slightly left' sit comfortably with the astounding rise of the planetary enterprise of giant corporate conglomerates? Mao’s dictum was that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun and the fact that corporate power and acquisition has done just that seems to shock no one.

C Wright Mills wrote that to be a member of the Right was to "celebrate society as it is, a going concern." [1] A going concern?? How many more moments will it be possible to pretend that our world can sustain uncontrolled exploitation?

Business people today are thriving in a legal framework that allows them to function without conscience. That means that they kill 600 year old giant rainforest trees on the North West Coast of Tasmania and they don’t care what happens. They change the course of a river, and they don’t care. It means large and small business are free to aerial spray the most dangerous chemicals over millions of people with decades of ongoing social protest still having no real effect.

To be Left, says Mills, is to provide "structural criticism and reportage and theories of society". But in this extraordinary time of history those small number of excessively rich and powerful people running the levers of our society are now presenting an apocalyptic near-future. How free should we be to tone down criticism today. How fair and reasonable is it to be "slightly Left"?

[1] C Wright Mills essay 'The New Left' Page 253 in 'Power Politics and People'.


wellbasically said...

One's leftish index seems to be a matter of how much to chip away at a modern middle class lifestyle. From observation, we can say that the somewhat left in charge of the US govt right now will make the carmakers manufacture more small cars which people don't want, and sell them at a loss. A little further would mandate public transportation and dense neighborhood living, which is probably less optimal for production and will further cut down the middle class. Maybe some would go all the way and have forced abortion, euthanasia and living in huts and caves.

kevin quinn said...

Brenda, I don't know what's left these days, but I do know that the Angry Bears are smart and interesting - take our own PGL, for instance.

Shag from Brookline said...

Being "slightly left of center" is not like being "slightly pregnant."

Tom Bozzo said...

The "slightly left of center" tagline has been with AB as long as I can remember; for various reasons, it hasn't been changed. Some of our commenters scoff from time to time at the 'slightly' part. I'd agree that our center of mass is well left of center, though the rightmost tail is slightly center-right.

Jack said...

Don't get hung up on a mast head jingle. It is the content of the posts and comments that are the basis of the quality of the AB site. There are some very sharp and informative people posting there who generally express a humanist point of view. It then attracts a few knuckle heads who often haven't a clue to what they are talking about.
Though there are far fewer of that sort on AB than on most discussion sites that focus on economics and other social-political issues.

There is no value in trying to read into an expression that is only trying to capture the flavor of a concept, as in "slightly left of center." All progressive social commentary has a difficult enough time fending off the mean spirited and deceitful attacks from the far right crazies and professional trolls. We don't need to cast any aspersions toward one another.

Brenda Rosser said...

It's hard to have a discussion about the impacts on the 'middle class' without knowing what that term means. I certainly don't advocate cramming people into densely populated cities in tiny box-like houses. Nor wasting funds on poor transport 'solutions'.

Okay. Will try to read Angry Bear more often. But that heading should go! My guess is that it is discouraging to many bloggers and readers who are trying to come to terms with very deep global issues.

Maybe we need a 'slightly silly' party, as Monte Python recommended.

Well, why doesn't Angry Bear define what 'centre' is? The word has overtones of being 'in equilibrium', being 'balanced'. What do you think?

I'm didn't think that I was casting aspersions. I wanted to ask a very serious question. What does it mean to be 'slightly left' in a world that is falling apart quickly?

Jack said...

I think that the left-right political continuum no longer serves, and possibly never served, a useful purpose. The center moves about depending on the interpreter. The ends are no more so stable in their meaning. What does it mean to be left of Genghis Khan? Can we rightly describe China as a leftist economy any longer? Confusion abounds with such an effort to pigeon hole a political or economic philosophy.
Imagine that many have described Obama's orientation as socialist. He seems to be to the left of Bush, but that tells us very little. The worst aspect of the left-right continuum is that it prejudices people to ideas that have been so described. Personally I'm more concerned to know where some one falls on a scale of humanist attitude.

Rdan said...

Hi Brenda.

LOL...we had several e-mail discussions on the topic with many different answers and decided to leave it alone.

What is your real question? It is one thing to post the question generally, another to use the blog as the center piece.

I would be happy to pose your question to readers if I knew what it was, since it has been discussed among main posters at Angry Bear in our context.

I would not worry about our numbers (visits) however...they have doubled.

Jack said...

Good to see you joining in. I guess I might put myself slightly to the left of Danton and a bit to the right of Robespierre, though with a similar inclination to that which the two had once shared. I'm not sure if that makes me to the right or left of the center.

Obama is another good example of the confusion this continuum can create. I suppose most people would describe Barak as left of center. Billy Boy, however, is likely to be seen as dead center. Better dead than red, you know. Why then are so many of Clinton's crowd crowded into Obama's Oval Office?

Bruce Webb said...

AB is quite Left in contemporary American terms. But would be considered quite centrist in European terms. Plus our commenters tend to be drawn from the center right to the Austrian School libertarian right to some rightest's who defy classification. As a result the site tends to be data driven which in turn requires deploying official data as a starting point which whether we like it or not builds in some orthodox/freshwater economic framework if only for the purposes of starting a discussion. On my particular topic I have with patient deployment of data have convinced a kind of whacky Nativist and a guy that edges close to Islamic eliminationism that on Social Security I am at least playing straight. Although both agree I am a dangerous radical socialist on everything else.

AB does not get a bunch of Progressives dropping into comments. On the other hand it lands in a lot of blogrolls and gets referenced. Which tells me we are doing something right. Because "that sounds about right and I have nothing to add" is something of a tribute.

AB is not Hullabaloo or EconoSpeak. Not because it really aims for a different destination but because it has chosen a different path, one in large part laid out by it's founder. Who is now long gone from the site but still out there in the world

Kevin Carson said...

I've got some respect for those on the right who are into things like homeschooling and gun rights; I figure they're objectively on the same side as those on the left who are into worker self-management, community technology, and the like.

The real enemy is the corporate center that dominates American politics--the guys who used to sit on both sides of the table on Crossfire.

The scary thing is that the 80% of issues the Democratic and Republican establishments agree on never even show up as issues in national politics.

Jack said...

I like the original French National Assembly differentiation because I feel it more accurately reflects the dichotomy which it has come to represent in this country. The King's supporters sit to the right of the King. Those who have more in common with the common citizens sit to the King's left. We don't have a king, but we do have an inclination for fawning over royalty, as measured by wealth.

Brenda Rosser said...

The issue of the usefulness of labels such as 'left' and 'right' has been raised a number of times in my previous online forums.

From my reading of history it appears clear that the two major political parties (in America, Britain and Australia, at least!) have wanted the word 'left' to be associated with concentrated power, government incompetence and excessive regulation. C Wright Mills' definition OTOH is distinctly different. As readers can see from this article.

There are other spheres where other words and labels have been given a specific meaning by those that hold the rungs of power, as you are no doubt aware. For example: African-American used to be 'nigger'. Woman became 'bird' or 'chick'. Young people in the 1960s were called 'long-haired no-hopers'. Hippies cut off their hair and began to wear the corporate suit in order to get a job. etc

Power will control the meaning to words. Power will determine the culture through their hold on media. When did you hear the last anti-war song on the radio? I haven't heard one played on air for decades. When did you last watch a movie with hippies as the central characters (or even as minor serious characters?) What movies or TV shows have people living anything other than a consumer-corporate lifestyle?

Henry Kissinger:

"the so-called peace movement had evolved from seeking an end of the war to treating America's frustrations in Indochina as symptoms of a moral degeneration that needed to be eradicated root and branch."

"God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the west... keeping the world in chains. If [our nation] took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts. " ~Mahatma Gandhi

Brenda Rosser said...

Bruce: "the site tends to be data driven.....AB does not get a bunch of Progressives dropping into comments. On the other hand it lands in a lot of blogrolls and gets referenced. Which tells me we are doing something right.Okay, thanks for explaining the history of Angry Bear Bruce.

Why not press the issue of the data on world trade at AB? The social, political and military implications behind the source of 'global imbalances' are astounding!

As for AB landing in a lot of blogrolls and getting referenced. Well, there's a reason why those writers who overstep the mark and challenge the horrendous status-quo don't get referenced. Have you had a closer look at the online world?

My writing does get referenced.
Far more than would be apparent by a simple search using google, dogpile and altavista. There's more to these search engines and we need to know what it is.

I've also noticed that on sites like Economist's View that you could spend your life clarifying the errors that come up in the articles linked and discussed there. Only to find that the following week the same misinformation is published in different format. What's going on??

If something seems extremely odd. Like trade data or questionable statements by 'regulators', don't drop the subject. Demand clarification and answers.

Robert said...

With all the debate of whose centre/center (whose definition, spelling and continuum) no-one seems to connect the article to the key issues raised by Brenda ... Do we who accept the label "slightly left of ??" provide adequate criticism of those who would lead us to "an apocalyptic near-future"?

Brenda Rosser said...

Kevin: "The scary thing is that the 80% of issues the Democratic and Republican establishments agree on never even show up as issues in national politics.Same here in Australia. You can vote Labor. You can vote Liberal. The outcome is the same. Young people are sent up to fight a war in some country targetted by America. The forests continue to be raped and burnt to the ground; even the soil is scorched and turned into brick. The aerial spraying continues and is stepped up. A foreign corporation buys up another copper mine. Another river becomes polluted and choked.

Jack said...

All that you say is sadly too true. What does it mean in the present day to be to the left on an issue, to be progressive or the term I find more illuminating, to be humanist in one's social and economic outlook? I think that it has become little more than an intellectual exercise with little impact. Economic power has become increasingly centralized with the resulting centralization of control over the national, and maybe also the global, media which leads to the centralization of political power. It is like some terrible vortex and the only hope that society has it that the central power sitting in the eye will spin itself out of control. Every several hundred years a population explodes leading to a brief resurrection of greater economic and social freedom. And then it all starts over again. The common people who suffer the most under the centralization of such power do love to fawn over their kings and queens. Even if at their own expense.

cian said...

A little further would mandate public transportation and dense neighborhood living, which is probably less optimal for production and will further cut down the middle class.I realise little thought went into this rant, but still. Densely populated areas globally are where most production and innovation occurs. I have no idea why the size of the middle class would be affected one way, or the other, by the closeness of their neighbours.

I live in a densely populated city and find it very pleasant. A decent store is across the street for basic groceries, I can walk easily to my regular shops. The street I live on is safe, as there are always people walking along it. Its a quick bus ride into town via a regular bus service (cheaper and quicker than driving), while taxis are inexpensive as everything is relatively close. Because of population density, the city supports a wide range of interesting shops, cafes, restaurants and services, we have good arts/activities/festivals/etc. It would be nice to have a bigger house/garden, but I'd be giving up an awful lot for that. Suburbs are tedious, homogeneous and fairly unfriendly places.

gordon said...

Brenda Rosser: "Tell me how will 'slightly left' folks address a new world of dramatic and abrupt climate change?"

The issue of climate change is a good one to illustrate the difference as I see it. Often, proponents of conservation/low emissions begin their argument with statements about how overuse of nonrenewables and increasing global temperatures will be harmful to the world population as a whole, or as a collective entity.

It is at that point that non-left people tune out. The touchstone of "left" is precisely that concern with the public interest or the public good. To your average rightist, there is no such thing. One is reminded of Thatcher's famous remark about the non-existance of "society".

To the rightist, what is important is his/her relative standing, not the average or median level of welfare. So arguments about conservation or low emissions based on any premise about collective welfare will have no impact. The rightist is indifferent to the general welfare provided that his/her relative standing is preserved. It doesn't matter to him/her if that standing is represented by possession of a private plane and apartments in New York, London and Paris, or whether it is represented by possession of only a bronze dagger, provided that the hoi polloi possess less. He/she is perfectly happy to contemplate a world devastated by deforestation, soil depletion, mass extinctions etc., provided that he/she remains on top of the (much lower) heap.