Dear Workforce Action Team,
A new form of radical centrist politics is needed to tackle inequality without hurting economic growth
BY THE end of the 19th century, the first age of globalisation and a spate of new inventions had transformed the world economy. But the “Gilded Age” was also a famously unequal one, with America’s robber barons and Europe’s “Downton Abbey” classes amassing huge wealth: the concept of “conspicuous consumption” dates back to 1899. The rising gap between rich and poor (and the fear of socialist revolution) spawned a wave of reforms, from Theodore Roosevelt’s trust-busting to Lloyd George’s People’s Budget. Governments promoted competition, introduced progressive taxation and wove the first threads of a social safety net. The aim of this new “Progressive era”, as it was known in America, was to make society fairer without reducing its entrepreneurial vim.Modern politics needs to undergo a similar reinvention—to come up with ways of mitigating inequality without hurting economic growth. That dilemma is already at the centre of political debate, but it mostly produces heat, not light. Thus, on America’s campaign trail, the left attacks Mitt Romney as a robber baron and the right derides Barack Obama as a class warrior. In some European countries politicians have simply given in to the mob: witness François Hollande’s proposed 75% income-tax rate. In much of the emerging world leaders would rather sweep the issue of inequality under the carpet: witness China’s nervous embarrassment about the excesses of Ferrari-driving princelings, or India’s refusal to tackle corruption.
At the core, there is a failure of ideas. The right is still not convinced that inequality matters. The left’s default position is to raise income-tax rates for the wealthy and to increase spending still further—unwise when sluggish economies need to attract entrepreneurs and when governments, already far bigger than Roosevelt or Lloyd George could have imagined, are overburdened with promises of future largesse. A far more dramatic rethink is needed: call it True Progressivism.
Read more at The Economist
The Democratic Convention’s Message Discipline
We’re only one day into the Democratic convention but this much is already clear: So far, the Democrats are better at this.That’s not an ideological or moral observation. It’s a professional one. Team Romney let their keynoter go 15 minutes before mentioning their candidate’s name. Julián Castro mentioned Barack Obama after two. Team Romney put their most affecting speakers—the folks in Romney’s church—on before the networks tuned in. Team Romney let Paul Ryan give an eat-your-broccoli speech about cutting government spending—including Medicare—and then largely ignored the theme in Romney’s own speech the following night. Night one of the Democratic convention, by contrast, was tightly organized around a clear message: Romney isn’t like you. The attacks were personal, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes even verging on nativist (who knew Democrats hated Switzerland so much). But they hit Romney where he’s vulnerable. There’s a reason the GOP used to nominate folks like Nixon and Reagan, who had working-class roots. It’s because many voters—not all of them left wing—really do consider Republicans a little too detached from the suffering of ordinary Americans. Most Americans respect businessmen; they recognize that they play an important role in producing wealth. But they also want the government to act as a check on businessmen’s single-minded pursuit of wealth. The GOP used to better understand that. Because of their own backgrounds and personalities, Nixon, Reagan and even George W. Bush connected personally to working-class voters (at least white ones) in a way that partially overcame the GOP’s image problem. But Mitt Romney has not, and will not. In different ways, every Democratic speaker honed in on that vulnerability. And then Michelle Obama masterfully used it to reintroduce America to her husband. The entire subtext of her speech was: Barack Obama and I are like you; we come from families like yours; we’ve lived lives like yours. We’re the un-Romneys. The presidential race remains close. But the Obama campaign has what the Clinton campaign had in 1992 and the Bush campaign in 2004: clarity of message. It’s a message that makes Romney’s policy views a function of his biography. And in these bad economic times, the Democrats are using it to achieve a kind of political jujitsu. Usually, the president who presides over a lousy economy gets accused of being out of touch. That’s what happened to Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush. But by relentlessly depicting Romney as a detached plutocrat, the Obama campaign has turned that traditional narrative on its head. Notice how Michelle Obama and Rahm Emanuel emphasized that Obama reads 10 letters from ordinary Americans every night. The point was that even if not all of Obama’s policies have worked, at least he cares. It wasn’t until the 1996 campaign, when I saw them go up against Bob Dole, that I truly appreciated the Clinton campaign’s political skill. We’re seeing the same today. Team Obama didn’t beat Hillary Clinton by accident. The president and his top advisers play this game very well and very tough. The Romney campaign is not awful. But so far, at least, it’s not in the same league.
Finally, the complete list of sixteen!
What Motivates You?
Jonathan Haidt Answers Your Questions About Morality, Politics, and Religion
The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but at least a semblance of truth