In Which I Finally Lose It & Start Throwing Shit Across The Room

GODDAMNIT!!! Fuckface fucktart cocksmoking chickenfucking FUCKETTY FUCKING SHITSICLE THIS PISSES ME OFF!!!

[Slams head repeatedly against wall, eyelid twitches, starts muttering about being the Angel of Death, with the time of purification being at hand*]

Wingnuts can’t do this to me; only neo-liberals can turn this trick.

This time it’s Brad DeLong, and yeah, I know he’s smarter than me, and he’s a very decent man but this kind of shit drives me batty.

Right at the start the post mentions ‘social democracy’ in this country and I’m thinking, hmmm, DeLong’s idea of ‘social democracy’ is not much more than a progressive income tax and quite a bit of education spending — which is fine, but not really social dem; more like, Eisenhowerian. But whatever.

Then I see this and my head explodes:

American politics aren’t… logical


One would have thought that initiatives like Barney Frank’s “grand bargain”–the left supports trade liberalization if the right supports social democracy–would have gained more traction with a left that realizes that trade restrictions are negative-sum when they aren’t smoke-and-mirrors and a right that recognizes the potential economic and soft-power security gains from an even more interdependent world. But they haven’t.


Notice how even-handedly this is presented, with both Left and Right seemingly equally at fault, and the poor beleagured centrist in the middle, deploring the rabid extremes that have torn asunder such a sensible plan. I remember it differently:

Clinton offers a health care plan. Many centrists and all wingnuts oppose it. Clinton drops the plan. Then it’s the wingnuts’ turn: They and the centrists get NAFTA and GATT. Next it’s the Left’s turn, correct? To balance it out? Clinton’s centrist idea of ‘social democracy’ turns out to be. . .welfare reform. Some idea of fair play! When the holy fuck was there ever a grand bargain? ‘Triangulation’ doesn’t even begin to describe it; it was more like, ‘if we have to cave at all, make it to the Right.’

For better than a decade now, we’ve had free trade and a steadily deteriorating safety net. The Wealthy Criminal Class has become that much more wealthy, and everyone else has either been treading water or sinking. The Right got everything they wanted; the Centrists got most of what they wanted and all they really fought for; and we, we got fucked — which is bad enough, but now Professor DeLong is asking us to shoulder the blame, too. Fuck that.

As much as I’ve read DeLong’s blog, over and over the conclusion I can’t escape is that Free Trade matters to neoliberals more than the safety net. The better ones would rather have both of these, but if they can only have one, it’ll be Free Trade. Well, considering what that’s done for inequality (empiricism! yes yes!), shouldn’t it be obvious now even to the most dogmatic neoliberal that the only decent position viz the Middle and Working Classes is either ‘both, equally’ or ‘none’?

‘Social Democracy’? I want a welfare state better than fucking Sweden’s before I even think about going along with Free Trade — not to mention guarantees of environmental and labor standards with the countries we sign with. Moreover, I’ll be doing whatever the fuck I can to throw a monkeywrench into whatever Free Trade schemes arise until I get that welfare state and those guarantees.

Get to work, ‘social democrat’ neoliberals. The time of good faith and trust died a decade ago and you have no one to blame but yourselves and your wingnut sometime-fellow travelers.

* Simpson’s reference. No one worry. It’s not like I’m one of Pasty’s or Malkin’s commenters, or Pasty himself.


Comments: 40


For better than a decade now, we’ve had free trade and a steadily deteriorating safety net.

Yep. I’m a big DeLong fan, but you’re absolutely right on this.

Free trade is something that does create more wealth over the long haul, but:

a.) Is incredibly disruptive, especially to working people
b.) Only widens the gap between rich and poor
c.) Gives the greatest gains in wealth to the people already at the top

When you couple this with our deteriorating social safety net, free trade looks very bad indeed.


Although I’m probably 100% with you with regards to promoting free trade without taking care of a domestic safety net, I’ve been bouncing both ways with regards to what free trade means in terms of liberal ideology. If a basic point of liberalism is that all people should have equal opportunities in their pursuit of liberty and happiness, isn’t national protectionism, seen on the long term, inherently illiberal?

I’m not saying that the current neoliberal approach favored by neocons and ‘centrists’ of allowing big business to simultaneously crash the US domestic job market and exploit those same markets in third world countries is a sensible approach; It seems to me that that is an implementation issue, though.

What I am questioning, though, is if all-out protectionism out of national interests, in the long term (fading borders, dwindling resources), can be called anything other than ideologically conservative and not liberal at all? If some hick in Alabama deserves a helping hand, what did the farmer in Kenya do wrong not to deserve the same?


Don’t let them set the tone of the debate. NAFTA and GATT isn’t free trade. It’s simply a waiving of tariffs. It is thus simply managed trade, under a new set of rules. One cannot talk of free trade between America and another country if all we do is waive tariffs, while that country still uses totalitarianism or other state measures to repress unions so as to artificially deflate the cost of labor.

LA Confidential Pantload

Unfortunately, it’s no longer an Overton Window; it’s an Overton Black Hole that is relentlessly sucking all political discourse to the right.


(“what’s up pussycat, whoa-oo-o-oa”)

The free trade– it’s WORKING!!!!


Well, I have seen what NAFTA did to Mexico. In a previous post, a couple of months ago, I think, I spoke about the environmental catastophe that resulted in American corps going to Mexico for cheaper labor and nonexistant enviromental laws. At the risk of not sounding histrionic, let’s just say it’s really bad. Really, really, bad.


But..but Shana! That’s unpossible! They were subsistence farmers! I mean, they were eating dirt and human flesh just to stay alive until the benevolent multinationals came in, kicked them off their communal land, and they wound up in a sweatshop! I know this because I read The Economist.


enviromental? Someone silly and tired could make a joke- but I suppose I am the one who is tired. Catch y’all tomorrow-


And then their wives started giving birth to deformed babies! How could this have gone even more wrong?


Cosign BlackBloc…the key is, in all the years since NAFTA, who do you know who has actually “traded” with Mexico? Like, you bought something from or sold something to an actual Mexican person with whom you could not have conducted that transaction pre-NAFTA?

These trade agreements have nothing at all to do with liberal values, which center around defending the liberty and opportunities of individuals. They defend corporate values, which are inherently illiberal.


It’s not about that kind of trade. It’s about corporate interest. As you pointed out. But in retrospect, I have to add that I think small business interests would be a very welcome thing in the region that I was in. Try it-

Categorically Imperative

Ah, but Mr. Mencken, you give DeLong waaaaaay too much credit even while criticizing him. The bone you pick is historical, but the way DeLong sets it up already gives the game away. His “even-handed” analysis is that the left-right/social dem-free trade bargain will work so long as the groups involved are: “a left that realizes that trade restrictions are negative-sum when they aren’t smoke-and-mirrors and a right that recognizes the potential economic and soft-power security gains from an even more interdependent world.”

The thing to notice here is that the two key realizations (according to DeLong) involve the idea that free trade is normatively good. After all, the right’s recognition that some “economic and soft-power security gains” will result from “an even more interdependent world” seems to have little to do with ANY social democratic platform, no matter how hypothetical. So it’s tough to see what a free trade-centric right is giving away in this hypothetical bargain.

The social dem/free trade swap DeLong initially posits is a mere strawman set up as a springboard to his paean to free trade. What DeLong, like many “centrists,” fails to realize is that the theory of free trade utterly goes down the crapper given the incredibly imbalanced economic system under which we currently operate.

Shorter me: Anyone who attempts to portray necessary social programs as a mere trade-off in a free trade bargain is a douchebag.


They aren’t free trade agreements. They’re investor protection contracts. They exist not to facilitate trade, but to rigidly exclude in their mechanisms any other laws which may impede investor returns.

Categorically Imperative

Pim –

On a very theoretical level, I suppose you have a point…but the problem is that the world doesn’t operate on that sort of theoretical level. The “implementation issue” you gloss over in your second paragraph is THE WHOLE ISSUE. What sort of “free trade” program are you going to implement today that doesn’t involve the corporate exploitation of job markets BOTH here and abroad. I can’t think of one, because I can’t think of a situation in which it would be against the corporate interest to engage in such exploitation absent some type of “protectionist” policies.

It’s not clear what you think of as “protectionism,” but you seem to define it pretty broadly, which is a problem to the extent you think “protectionism” is necessarily evil, or at least illiberal. I think the answer to your question comes down to whether you view liberalism in this particular context as being related largely (or solely) to means or largely (or solely) to ends. You seem to think it’s about the means — you argue that since trade restrictions deny “equal opportunity” to everyone, they must be illiberal. I would argue that you have to take the ends into account; if so-called equal opportunity policies actually only provide corporations with the ability to leverage the labor pool to the corporate advantage, then “protectionist” policies that are set in place with an eye to advantaging the average person (or even, to steal from Rawls, the least well-off person) are actually MORE liberal at the end of the day.

Categorically Imperative

El Cid –

That’s about right, though it’s really not investor protection; it’s just corporate protection. Most corporations could give a rat’s ass about actual investor returns. They calibrate returns to provide the absolute minimum that will keep a sufficient majority of investors from complaining.



Setting up ‘free trade’ the way it has been advanced throughout the Clinton years and the curent Bush administration is plutocratic at best. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and even well-intended globalism can be a ticket to corporate exploitation. From a liberal standpoint, though, I do wonder what kind of long term prospects we can offer the less fortunate parts of the world. Liberal policies have historically found their way into the political spectrum initially not through benovelence, but because the inequalities they posed to fix had grown to such a rampant level that the status quo had a choice between either revolution or liberalization.

It stands to reason that this very same effect can and will play out on a global scale, where wellfare-inequality on an international level gives rise to exactly the same forms of popular resentment. At the risk of dipping into the neocon playbook, may this not already be an element of what is happening in the world today?

I think what I’m driving at is that ‘Free Trade’ seems not to be the answer, but liberals should perhaps add a bit of focus to the larger question of globalization and ways to achieve it without ending up with corruption and more inequality. I have this eery feeling that we’ve hardly got beyond the knee-jerk phase where globalization is involved and this, on the long term, is bad strategy.


Would funny hat day or some Tom Jones music make you feel better?

Categorically Imperative

Pim –

I agree with you about the unfortunate historical fact that liberal policies are often backed into (though in a fair number of cases the revolution isn’t avoided, but is what forces the liberalization). I just think that even talking about free trade, if your goal is to bring a liberal perspective to globalization, is the wrong starting point. Heck, for the worst-off countries, trade with the U.S. isn’t even part of the calculus.

I don’t want to make a strained analogy, but hoping that free trade policies, however well-intentioned, can somehow be leveraged to implement liberal policy goals is just a form of good ol’ voodoo economics that is doomed to the same fate–failure.


Free trade is a misnomer. The Corporate Shills framed the debate and gave away our country’s economic advantages for their own personal gain.


You wanna help workers in foreign countries?

Help them organize unions.


Yeah, it’s bad bad bad that the evil American companies move to Mexico. See, they made the laws in Mexico JUST so they could move the companies there. Right?? I mean Mexico had a high pay rate and a solid safety record in their companies before American companies went there.


The biggest problem with free trade and Mexico is that the campasinos were all kicked off their land by the Mexican government. Ever hear of Marcos?? Chiapas???


Uh-oh! The Free Trade vs. Fair Trade non-debate raises its head!

Grampaw is sure to show up any minute now, unless he’s busy studying the Porto Alegre Statement.


So much pie, Annie!


Not the best pie, but the most.

NobodySpecial is absolutely right. Help the workers of the world organize unions, and revitalize the ones in this country.

I’m pretty proud of our Iowa legislature, newly elected Dem majorities in both houses, which is working on some Fair Share legislation, to try to get the filthy scabs to pay up for the benefits the unions have negotiated and for which the scabs have never paid a dime of dues.

OT, but the Iowa Senate has become the third legislative body in the country to formally condemn the “surge”. I’m pretty proud of them today. We’re going to get stem cell research restrictions lifted, too. When people say the Dems are no different than the Rethugs, they need look no further.

NAFTA and all assorted are just tools of Imperialism, economic Imperialism and exploitation of the helpless and unrepresented not being the least of our sins. All the good intentions in the world can’t change the outcome. The root of all evil is indeed money, or at least the greed which it induces.


What did you expect from a colleague of John Yoonitary Executive?

Berkeley ain’t your grandma’s progressive bastion these days.


I see this thread is back from visiting Teh Preview Button. I don’t know about anyone else, but this thread just completely disappeared for about two hours.


Look. I’m depressed, OK? I would like to see a more social-democratic America. But I really can’t see how we get there–save for state-level action on the coasts…


I’d definitely put social safety nets before the free exchange of goods and services between nations.

But should we just fall back to mercantilism until the workers of the world have health care and 40-hour work weeks and no child labor and all that good stuff?

Does anyone here have any good ideas on how to achieve a worldwide safety net? I’m looking for ideas here that involve more than advocacy (i.e. “support unions for foreigners” is a nice thought, but it doesn’t actually put any leverage on the governments and cartels that prevent unionization, and it doesn’t do anything to alleviate the poverty, job scarcity, and absence of middle classes that all function as leverage against unionization).

Trade policies are agreements amongst the powerful. It’s a bummer, but doing Scanners-esque blog-posts isn’t going to convince the powerful to let go of their power. Once in a long while, agreements amongst powerful entities that distrust each other can result in good things, like the Magna Carta or the United States Constitution. And that is the sort of agreement, I think, that the people who attend trade conferences are hoping to eventually achieve.

Since Retardo seems to reject out of hand any and all trade policy negotiated amongst the powerful, I am curious as to what alternative he favors. He’s sneered at the suggestion that he’s a Communist, so I have to assume global revolution of the underclass isn’t what he has in mind. Does he want a proportionally elected World Safety Net Congress in charge of a Global Safety Net Police, or something? And how would we get there?

How is it supposed to work, Retardo? I agree it’s a laudable goal, but What tools would you use to turn the world into a great big global Scandinavia?

The people you denounce as “neoliberals” at least have an idea of how to make it happen, though, as many of them will admit, that idea (or, as they will insist, bungling application of that idea) has had only a few successes and quite a few gut-wrenching failures.

I’m personally not at all convinced that the unencumbered exchange of goods and services necessarily generates more progressive social policy, but it does seem to help more than hurt in cases where there aren’t things like brutal dictatorships or monopolies or deeply corrupt elites fucking things up.

(And for any anti-free-trade zealots waiting to pounce, no, the unencumbered exchange of goods and services does not cause dictatorships or monoplies or deeply corrupt elites, as proven by the fact that all of these things were quite common indeed before there was even such a thing as a shipping industry, let alone any thought of freeing it from tariffs. Just because you hate the removal of trade barriers doesn’t mean it causes every problem out there.)

I realize that anything other than blanket condemnation is just raw meat to an anti-free-trade orgy like this, so I’m just going to sit back and watch you all rip and slash at this comment and work yourselves further into that exquisite righteous rage you love so much (and mock so readily when it appears on the Right. They’re unhinged lunatics drunk on hate when they do it, but anyone who points out that we do it too is a pearls-clutching civility troll and by gum we’re right to be outraged, eh?).

I’ve said my piece, I’m out.

Ernesto Guevara de la Serna

Global revolution of the underclass is exactly what I have in mind…


I’d definitely put social safety nets before the free exchange of goods and services between nations.

That’s good. How would you do that?


Personally, I like the Thom Hartmann view of trade: If a company makes shoes in china for $0.10 in labour costs that would have cost $1.00 in labour domestically, charge a .90 cent tarriff.

I’d go a step further, and suggest that the money, rather than going to the government, could be distributed amongst the employees. Employee makes .10 for every shoe they make for the domestic market, $1.00 for every shoe they make sold in America. Company can thus compete domestically with domestic wages, and still sell product on fair terms with nations like the United States. The additional money would also help expand the economies of those nations, thus raising their quality of life as well as our own.

Of course, that’s assuming that we don’t hit a permanent oil crisis, which would make andy sort of “free trade” pretty much a moot point in comparison.


Look. I’m depressed, OK? I would like to see a more social-democratic America. But I really can’t see how we get there–save for state-level action on the coasts…

Okay, you just irritated. Why the emphasis on the fucking coasts? What you no doubt speak of as ‘flyover country’ with a sneer in your voice has quite a few union members. Michigan ring a bell? Illinois? Wisconsin? Minnesota?


NobodySpecial, that stuff really pisses me off too. It’s the whole, “There’s New York over here, and LA over there, and everything in between is Iowa” bullshit. I’ve lived in Western Washington, and I’ve lived in Iowa, and Des Moines is as liberal as Seattle, and the rest of Iowa is not as red as Eastern Washington. Not even close, well, except for Western Iowa, Steve King’s area. I wish Nebraska would annex Western Iowa.
We went for Gore in 2000. Went for Clinton both times. (Sorry to say, Iowa went for Bush in ’04, but Des Moines sure as hell didn’t.) Four out of five of our US House members are Dems. Both houses of the legislature have Democratic majorities. And we have a new Democratic governor and of course have had Tom Vilsack for what I must admit seems forever. And Tom Harkin is one of our two Senators. Grassley sucks but he’s no Tancredo. And our 30 year Republican House member who lost his seat to a Dem was one of the few Republicans who voted against the Iraq war.So all these “everything in between is red” people can bite me. Stereotypes suck.


Calling the Dems “the left” is laughable. There is no left. There is only right and far right.


NobodySpecial said,

February 16, 2007 at 18:13

You wanna help workers in foreign countries?

Help them organize unions.

Hear, hear! Solidarity….


Yeah, I know I probably sound like a broken record on this score already, but it really is the case that “free trade” is a liberal issue. It’s one of those things that separate liberals from lefties. If you have issues with free trade, it’s worth taking the time to consider that you might not be a liberal.

The idea that “liberals” and “the left” have common goals at all is a historical artifact with about as much impact on today’s world as the historical artifact that gave us the terms “left” and “right” to describe progressive and conservative political views.

Yes, liberals are for free trade. Liberals are also for only just as much of a social safety net as is absolutely necessary to keep the proles from rioting in the streets. Seeing as the American proles haven’t thrown a good riot in thirty or forty years at this point, the liberals feel comfortable in stripping away as much of the social safety net as they possiblly can. None of this should surprise anyone.


This is one of those it does no good for the wealthy to feed the poor because they just get hungry again arguments.
What a load of bubbles.
“a left that realizes that trade restrictions are negative-sum …”
Negative-sum for who you big galoot, negative-sum for who?


“Yes, liberals are for free trade. Liberals are also for only just as much of a social safety net as is absolutely necessary to keep the proles from rioting in the streets. Seeing as the American proles haven’t thrown a good riot in thirty or forty years at this point, the liberals feel comfortable in stripping away as much of the social safety net as they possiblly can. None of this should surprise anyone.”

Exactly, Jillian. I don’t know what the hell to do about it, though. We need a strong third party, but we’re always too busy trying to thwart disaster by getting people who aren’t at least crazy warmongering lunatics elected to build a viable third party. And because of stupid religion, a lot of the working people who would be our natural party have been won over to the right wing by things that shouldn’t even be issues, like stem cell research. (I can understand how someone can oppose abortion and still be a thinking human being, but stem cell research, FFS? But that’s another rant.) How do we make them see that the right wing does not have their best interests at heart? That the immigrants are not the cause of the pitiful economic circumstances they find themselves in, nor is the Left? How do we educate and get the word out? These are all questions we need to answer, and the sooner the better.


And to beat the well-wornb drum, you want a third party? Candy? Petition your state to change the voting laws to ensure a system that actually allows for a third party without harming their ideological allies. With american style plurality voting, the only way you’ll see a third party in power is when it replaces one of the two, and assumes it’s place in the duopoly.

what do you want?

FWIW Brad has been highly critical of Yoo.

On trade vs investor protection, sure. But then state the issue plainly as about worker rights and capitlist rights, NOT about trade. Mexico has indubitably suffered from neoliberalism from de la Madrid onwards, but attributing that to NAFTA is silly.

The Barney Frank deal would be great if we could get it. And yeah, he’s trying to make a deal with enlightened capitalists, but the whole workers’ revolution project is not moving ahead real fast, so that might be better than nothing, no?


(comments are closed)