Thomas Frank on the Establishment Democrats

Thomas FrankThe reason Democrats treat these professionals so respectfully in everything from trade deals to urban bike paths is because that is simply who the Democrats are today. Read through the party’s favorite works of political theory from the last few decades and you repeatedly encounter the same message: the highly credentialled experts and innovators at the top of the nation’s hierarchy of achievement belong there by virtue of their brilliance. That these people also happen to be colleagues and classmates of leading Democrats only reinforces the party’s identification with them. Liberals love to mock the One Percent and their self-serving ideology, but they themselves serve the needs of the top 10% just as blindly.

In truth, our affluent, establishment Democrats can no more be budged from their core dogmas — that education is the solution to all problems, that professionals deserve to lead, that the downfall of the working class is the inevitable price we pay for globalization — than creationists can be wooed away from the tenets of “intelligent design”. The dogmas are simply too essential to their identity.

—Thomas Frank
The Issue Is Not Hillary Clinton’s Wall St Links but Democrats’ Core Dogmas

Kevin Drum and the “Free Trade” Straw Man

Kevin DrumKevin Drum made a huge mistake in an article last week, “Free Trade” Is an Election-Year Nothingburger. I’ll get to his more general point in a bit, but he really blew it. And he even knows it. He wrote, “It’s always dangerous arguing with [Dean] Baker…” Yes! Yes it is! And when you find yourself writing things like “This is probably a bad idea, but…” you probably shouldn’t write it!

What he did was totally straw man Baker’s argument that globalization has been a one-way street. Baker has long argued (because it has long been true) that it has been free trade for manufacturing workers and others who don’t make a whole lot of money. And it has be big time protectionism for highly paid people like doctors and lawyers. This is, of course, not the only problem with globalization, but it is a really important one.

Kevin Drum calls foul, saying it “really doesn’t hold water.” So how is that? Well you see, when manufacturing jobs go overseas, the stuff they make still has to “meet American standards.” But that wouldn’t be true of the doctors who were coming to the United States! Because as we all know, French and Japanese doctors (who make half what American doctors make) are no good at their jobs! That’s why people die so young in those countries. Oh, wait

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” —Kevin Drum

But here’s what really makes me mad about Kevin Drum’s argument: Dean Baker has addressed this issue virtually every time he’s talked about free trade as it applies to highly paid professionals. He’s always going on about foreign doctors training to American standards. In fact, I’ve been somewhat annoyed about it. I’ve thought, “Enough! I get it!” But apparently, he didn’t say it enough because Kevin Drum, who is really smart and who I greatly admire, did not get it.

What bothers me in a more general way, however, is that Kevin Drum’s article is mostly a defense of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Well, maybe not a defense. It’s more, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” Most people don’t see trade deals as having hurt them, so who cares?! Well, that’s the way it is with large scale processes. Certainly Kevin Drum would never make the argument that global warming isn’t happening because some town in Mississippi has actually seen a slight decrease in temperature over the last two decades. He wouldn’t see that as a reason to do nothing about global warming. But when it comes to trade, he’s willing to make that argument.

There are, of course, many people who know that all our “free” trade agreements have affected them directly. Erik Loomis highlighted one in a recent article, Capital Mobility and Trumpism. A Carrier factory is being moved to Mexico. And an executive kindly told the laid-off men and women, “Workers there [in Mexico] typically earn about $19 a day — less than what many on the assembly line here make in an hour.” As Loomis noted, “The doctrine of unrestricted free trade has been basically bipartisan for many decades now. But no one ever thought hard enough about what this would look like when all the manufacturing jobs were gone.” That’s because those in power didn’t and don’t care, at least for as long as there isn’t a fascist takeover of the country.

What’s particularly bad is that Kervin Drum is not alone in his apologetics. I’ve been seeing a lot of liberal cheer leading recently for the TPP. Did a secret memo go out? It’s especially interesting when Paul Krugman, who has always been very pro-free trade, is now backing away from new trade deals. So it is a very good thing that people like Dean Baker keep hammering away at them. Kevin Drum should know better than to create a straw man out of Baker’s arguments. Just what does Drum think he’s doing?

Afterword: Dean Baker Responds to Kevin Drum

Dean Baker responded to Kevin Drum’s article, Kevin Drum Strikes Out Big Time on Trade. I don’t think he made his strongest case, probably because he likes Drum.

Afterword: the Battle Continues

Kevin Drum was right to be worried about a fight. After Baker’s article, Drum wrote, Dean Baker Needs Better Trade Comparisons. It’s a face-saving article. Basically, Drum is conceding the point but trying to argue about the specific case with doctors. But this is why, “It’s always dangerous arguing with Baker…” Dean Baker is having none of it, More on Kevin Drum’s Protectionism for Doctors. Unfortunately, this is not a “pass the popcorn” moment, because Baker and Drum are more or less in agreement. Still, it is pretty funny because of Drum original comment. It is always dangerous arguing with Dean Baker no matter who you are.

Morning Music: Talking Heads Live in Rome

Talking HeadsI remember in 1995, a student of mine telling me the only good thing about the internet was porn. He wasn’t actually making the case for porn; he was more making the case that the internet sucked. He was largely right. But today, the internet really is an amazing thing. In the old days, there would be little gems that people would have. For example, one guy I knew had a cassette he recorded off the radio of three tracks Talking Heads had recorded back in 1975 when they were still a trio. Now, just enter “Talking Heads Demo” into Google and it’s right there. Listen to Psycho Killer.

This doesn’t just apply to Talking Heads, of course. Last week I featured a set of Jules and the Polar Bears that I would have killed for a couple of decades ago. The same is true of the following video, “Talking Heads: Live in Rome.” It captures the band at the height of its power. But I will admit that Adrian Belew is too prominent and should have been mixed down. He does spoil the organic feel of some of the music because he becomes a lead instrument and there really isn’t a lead instrument on either Fear of Music or Remain in Light.

Still, it’s nice to have and quite enjoyable. I like it more than Stop Making Sense which is just too pretentious for me at this stage in my life. Plus, the songs are weaker.

Anniversary Post: Walter Raleigh’s Release

Walter RaleighOn this day in 1616, Walter Raleigh was released from the Tower of London where he had been imprisoned for 13 years. He had a difficult relationship with Queen Elizabeth. But it is probably more accurate to say that Elizabeth was just a difficult person. Anyway, Walter Raleigh got out of prison, went on a voyage, got in trouble, and so was put to death by the crown. I think he was as good at making enemies as he apparently was at making friends.

But I want to talk about his poetry. He wasn’t bad. But he also wasn’t great. And by way of example, I will compare him to Christopher Marlowe, which may not be fair, but if you are talking about great poets, well… In 1592 (the year before his death), Marlowe wrote, “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.” Here it is in its six verse form:

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of Roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and Ivy buds,
With Coral clasps and Amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.

Now this is a beautiful poem. It is also simplistic. Marlowe was only 28 years old. Also, he was almost certainly gay. But it wasn’t published until Marlowe was long dead, in 1599. At that point, Walter Raleigh read it and decided to write a response to it. This would put him at just under 50 years old. And he was, shall we say, rather familiar with sexual politics.

So in 1600, Walter Raleigh published, “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.” It is much more wise and knowing. And I admire that. At the same time, I think it is quite clear that he was not the the poet that Marlowe was. Still, it is a nice poem. And I love it when artists interact in this way. It’s too bad Marlowe wasn’t alive to reply himself.

If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd’s tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.

Time drives the flocks from field to fold
When Rivers rage and Rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complains of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy’s spring, but sorrow’s fall.

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten:
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

Thy belt of straw and Ivy buds,
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.

But could youth last and love still breed,
Had joys no date nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee and be thy love.