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The New Blue Social Model, and Its Good Chances of Success - Elf M. Sternberg
The New Blue Social Model, and Its Good Chances of Success
There's a certain irony to the website named Big Tent Review, with its photograph of a big top as its masthead. Orginially envisioned as a group blog for second-tier "less crazy" conservatives, the group slowly dwindled as it became progressively clear that the ongoing madness gripping conservatism was metastasizing into a somewhat permanent Southern-fried state of conscience. There was no big tent, there was only a circus.

"Ironic" because every time I see it, I'm reminded of David Frum's observation that conservatives like capitalism because it keeps people afraid. Fear of losing employer-provided health care, fear of losing one's home and one's family, or as Frum puts it: "Risk disciplines and teachs self control. Without a safety net, people won’t try to vault across the big top." Frum wrings his hands at people willing to leave the nest and strike out on their own as artists and innovators. That's conservatism, of a sort.

Sander's essay today is about the "red social model" and "blue social model" for success. He talks about the blue social model as being essentially the Chinese fascist model: the government set prices and conditions for core industries (transportation, agriculture, data infrastructure, heavy manufacturing), and the industries in response guaranteed lifelong employement, retirement pensions, and health care coverage.

Sanders goes on to say that Japan and Europe started to degrade this model by introducing technological innovations the US had to match to keep up. In some ways reading Sanders's version of history is a lot like reading Spuffords Red Plenty (brilliant, brilliant book, BTW) set in the time of polyester and disco instead of wool and bebop.

Sanders ignores a key element of the story: it was those Americans with the strongest oligarchal impulses that brought down the post-WWII blue social model. Japanese automotive and electronic imports were allowed because the people with the most money leveraged the US Chamber of Commerce and related institutions into a lobbying effort to make more money, the US's own manufacturing base be damned. To be sure, there was envy from average citizens eager to get their hands on a sexy European import and the latest Sony Walkman, but without relaxation of tarrifs they US could have remained a Soviet-style walled garden, and the wealthy could have kept those tarrifs in place if they wished.

Sanders points out that there's a push now to create a new "red social model," but that it's going to be years before it becomes established, and that the base is really, really not going to like it. For one thing, it has to take into account that minority business owners, especially Latinos and Asians, actually understand that government-purchased infrastructure supplies roads, supplies power and water, as well as healthy and educated labor capable of doing the job, and the Southern Strategy will have to be truly dead to sell that to the base.

In the meantime, there's already a New Blue Social Model rolling out. It looks a lot like the New Red Social Model but with a twist: the New Blue Social Model actually cares about the social part, about society. The current blue social model is messy and individualistic: it lets people be people. It says that to be successful, we must be capable of operating the levers of power. We must have full educations; we must not have those educations terminated early by parental responsibilities; we will take on parental responsibilities when we are fully capable of doing so; we see all responsibile people of all sexes as full partners in making these decisions. We must be free from fear, especially the fears at which the David Frums of the right rub their hands in eager pleasure. This is one of the reasons why birth control was such a big deal in the past election; for every Phyllis Schafly wringing her hands over the burdens women "were forced to accept without being asked" there were hundreds of women who wanted to keep their responsibilities and the rights that came with them.

Until and unless the New Red Social Model encompasses the reality that a low-skilled man cannot through pluck and determination make his way in a post-Internet world, it's doomed to failure.

I'm genuinely happy to see that Frum, at least, is starting to see the inherent cruelty in the Republican vision. In a conversation on Fox News with other talking heads, he said, sounding a lot like Andrew Sullivan: "All of us who are allowed to participate in this conversation, we all have health insurance. And the fact that millions of Americans don't have health insurance, they don't get to be on television. And it is maybe a symptom of a broader problem, not just the Republican problem, that the economic anxieties of so many Americans are just not part of the national discussion at all."

We're down once again to two competing visions: one that is boring because it uses cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment and aversion, a very technocratic vision. It's the Blue Social Model. The Red Social Model is about feeling: "The safety net makes people too happy, too free, too easy with their lives. Whatever happened to hardscrabble, can-do Americanism? How do we force Americans back into that mould, and the rest into the closet?"

What the Red Social Modellers haven't demonstrated, here in the most innovative time in American history yet, is that it has disappeared. Yet the New Red Social Model is being built around the feeling that it has. And that's why it's doomed.

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4 comments or Leave a comment
tagryn From: tagryn Date: November 12th, 2012 10:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I suspect if you ask people in Greece or Spain (or Italy, Argentina, etc.) how the "Blue" model is working out for them re: keeping them "free from fear," you wouldn't like their answer. Their safety net is shattered, despite the best in EU technocratic analysis which OK'ed their high level of borrowing, and even though the European countries have been underfunding their military obligations to pay for social spending for decades.

This is not the model we should be emulating.

Also, who are you quoting re: "The safety net makes people too happy, too free, too easy with their lives. Whatever happened to hardscrabble, can-do Americanism? How do we force Americans back into that mould, and the rest into the closet?" Would like to see a cite for that. Otherwise, its sounds like a strawman.
gromm From: gromm Date: November 23rd, 2012 05:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Germany has the same social model. How are they doing?

And America has already taken the capitalism-at-all-cost route. At least twice, actually. The first was when people were routinely dying in coal mines and noone did anything about it. Nevermind how entire families were forced to work in them from grandfathers down to 12 year old boys, because one wage couldn't support even half of them. That sort of thing ended right about when the stock market went to hell in 1929.

And the next time was when the laws put in place after 1929 - to prevent another 1929! - were repealed, and the predictable and inevitable outcome came about. Nevermind the wal-marting of America and the steady destruction of the middle class that went along with it.

Sorry, pure capitalism is unfathomably cruel. So is pure socialism. So then you need to turn to models that do both at the same time. Like Germany, Canada, and England. Canada saved itself from the Great Recession mostly by strict and heavy regulation of banks. When American banks were giving away money to anyone with a heartbeat, Canadian banking customers were asking why oh why they couldn't have the same thing. They just don't ask that anymore.

Just as importantly, the Canadian government has been able to balance its books just the same. In the end, no matter what kind of safety net you have, or none at all, you need to make sure you're not borrowing massive amounts of money. Even though America has gone the "greed is good!" route, it still doesn't seem to have a handle on its borrowing any better then Greece does.

So I really don't understand where the hell you're coming from.
mcjulie From: mcjulie Date: November 13th, 2012 01:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow, Frum said that? The apocalypse really is nigh.
gromm From: gromm Date: November 23rd, 2012 05:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
As George Carlin was quick to point out, the poor in America exist purely to scare the shit out of the middle class to keep them going to those jobs.

To that end, your poor need to be truly scary poor. And it has to be easy to fall to that level, too.
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