Matt Bruenig is a very interesting guy. Most people know of him because of his spicy twitter feed. I never followed him on Twitter and it wouldn’t have mattered if I had. I don’t check out Twitter very often. In fact, I get annoyed when people complain this or that person said something stupid or unfair or whatever on Twitter. What else is Twitter for. But it’s telling that Bruenig had almost a quarter million followers on Twitter. But his blog, where he shows himself to be one of the greatest young intellectuals in the world, didn’t have that much more traffic than Frankly Curious.
So when he had his little fight with Neera Tanden, I tended to side with him. So he said something rude? Why was it all these outraged people weren’t reading his insightful articles at Demos.com and MattBruenig.com? To make matters worse, Tanden didn’t seem terribly bothered. (I’ve found Tanden to be a very reasonable person who understands the difference between an enemy and an ally, even when they disagree on minor points.) Sadly, Bruenig lost both his jobs, and as a result, shut down his website for almost a year.
When he first shut-down his website, I wrote this:
The MattBruenig.com Downtime Clock
MattBruenig.com came back online on 1 April 2017. He’s been publishing frequently since then.
As I alluded to last week — Josh Barro Is Blinded By His (Elite) Privilege — Matt Bruenig lost his job at Demos. In the process, he put his blog, MattBruenig.com, into maintenance mode. Go to any page on the site, and all you get it, “Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.” This caused a problem for me. For one thing, despite the fact that Bruenig is young enough to (barely) be my grandson, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from him. So I want him to be around. I relished each time one of his articles showed up on my RSS feed.
But there was another issue of a more practical nature. So I wrote to Bruenig about it. Part of it is a fan letter. I’m not above that:
Over the years, you’ve been one of the most important public intellectuals for me. (Dean Baker is probably the only other writer who has had a more profound effect on my thinking.) As a result, I’ve written about you a lot — something on the order of 50 articles. My focus was almost always on your writing at your personal blog. But now that you’ve put the site in maintenance mode, all those links are useless.
I am more than willing to take the time to replace them with links from archive.org. But I don’t want to do that if your site is going to go back online soon. And I do hope that it is.
You are an important political voice in this country. And I hope this Demos nonsense doesn’t deprive us of your insights about the American political system. On the other hand, I don’t want to see you and your family suffer.
If you could let me know your plans for your blog, I would be most grateful.
Matt Bruenig responded:
Well, one man’s “bit” is another man’s, “Oh my God! Your site has been down for over a week!”
So here it is: The MattBruenig.com Downtime Clock. It counts time since Archive.org noticed that MattBruenig.com was put into maintenance mode. Each morning, I check to see if the site is back up. Once it is back up, I will stop the clock and take this post down from the menu bar. Until then, it will tick away.
The MattBruenig.com Downtime Clock
Your MattBruenig.com Fix
For those of you who just can’t wait, here are some articles that spring from Bruenig’s thinking:
- Liberals’ Disregard for the White Working Class
- Diaper Stamps and the Infantilization of Poor People
- Eric Harwood Is Voting His Own Best Interests
- Apologetics of the Rich Hold Us Back
- Libertarianism Is Based Only on Property Rights
- We Get the Poor Children We Don’t Pay For
The Wisdom of Matt Bruenig
It’s a little bit embarrassing to admit that I’ve learned so much from Matt Bruenig when he could easily be my son. To most of the people in my life, I’m a really smart and knowledgeable guy. But it is perhaps a function of this that I have a fairly good idea of all that I don’t know. I don’t see myself as the guy who comes up with great ideas. I’m the guy who can appreciate great ideas when they seem to radical to others.
So the rest of this article consists of Matt Bruenig quotes that I’ve highlighted on this site. The idea of my quotes pages was always supposed to be like what The Progressive does in its “No Comment” section. Mostly, it is something I think is simply brilliant. Somethings it is something I find interesting, but don’t necessarily agree with. And sometimes it is something so vile that I don’t think it needs elaboration.
All of the quotes from Matt Bruenig are in the first category. Anyone who is serious about liberal or socialist politics should read Matt Bruenig. Unless you are a lot smarter and well-read than I am (and with absolutely no humility: that’s a very small group), you should read him. You should hang on every word. You should hope he starts writing books. You should hope that this country gets to the point where it lionizes him. Because Matt Bruenig combines great empathy for the poor with a scary intellect. A society that admires him is one that is doing okay.
The Violence Inherent in Capitalism
(17 April 2017)
United Airlines violently removed a passenger from an airplane earlier this week. …
No matter how you cut it, there does not seem to have been anything wrong with what happened here, under the logic of capitalist institutions. It may not have been a good PR move for the airline. They probably could have avoided it all by gratuitously offering more money to get the trespasser to leave. But none of these points turns the thing into a violation of capitalist ethics. It wasn’t.
Instead of soothing ourselves with the idea that this particular application of violence was illegitimate or extraordinary, we should instead confront it head on as a necessary feature of capitalist society. This kind of violence (or threats of it) is operating all the time.
Why does the homeless man sleep in the doorway of an empty office building instead of inside the building itself? Because the police has threatened to attack him just like they attacked this airline passenger. Why does a poor family go to bed hungry when they could just grab food from the supermarket a few blocks away? Because the police has threatened to attack them just like this passenger.
Of course, these threats of capitalist violence are so credible that few dare to act in ways that will trigger them. But the violence is always there lurking in the background. It is the engine that makes our whole system run. It is what maintains severe inequalities, poverty, and the power of the boss over the worker. We build elaborate theories to pretend that is not the case in order to naturalize the man-made economic injustices of our society. But it is the case. Violent state coercion like what you saw in that video is what runs this show.
Come See the Violence Inherent in the System
Funding Social Wealth Fund: Mandatory Share Issuances
(15 February 2017)
Right now, the US taxes corporate income at a statutory rate of 35 percent (the effective rate is much lower). The way this works is corporations determine what their profits are and then take 35 percent of them (actually less) and remit that money to the state. If we wanted to build up the wealth fund quickly, we could replace the corporate income tax with mandatory share issuances.
There are two ways to do this. The first way, favored by Dean Baker, is to have companies give a one-time grant of shares to the government equal to whatever we think an appropriate tax rate would be. So, instead of taxing corporate income at 20 percent, we could have each corporation give the state shares equal to 20 percent of its outstanding shares. This would make the state the 20 percent owner of the company and would entitle it to 20 percent of the dividends, buybacks, and any other payouts to shareholders.
The second way, favored by Rudolf Meidner, is to have companies give an annual grant of shares to the government equal to some percent of their annual profits. So, instead of taxing corporate income at 20 percent every year, we would have companies give over shares equal in value to whatever their corporate income tax liability would be that year. So, if a company had profits of $100 million, the 20 percent mandatory share issuance would require them to give the state shares equal to $20 million. This is a much more aggressive strategy than the one favored by Baker because, in the long-run, it would result in far more of the company’s equity getting transferred into the social wealth fund.
Here Come the Idiots
(19 October 2015)
One of the things I am not looking forward to in the coming elections are people who become sudden experts on the Nordic Model and the social democratic history of the Nordic countries. Partisans of various stripes, uninterested in understanding how the Nordic countries actually developed, will mobilize their considerable googling skills to conclude whatever they want about the election.
Here Come the Idiots
Matt Bruenig on “Clever” Libertarians
(01 May 2015)
I thought it would be fun to also shoot from the hip and theorize on why libertarians… behave as they do as youths and later in life, especially regarding [Frédéric] Bastiat. Young libertarians are smug, arrogant, and contrarian. Above all else, they love to be the smartest and cleverest guys in the room. So they latch on to simplistic arguments that cut against what most people think in order to mock others as stupid and unlettered. I’ve met plenty of libertarians in my life, and a good 90% of them seem to regard themselves as the smartest and cleverest person in any room they happen to be in.
Bastiat is super-helpful for those pursuing contrarian cleverness. His little stories are comprehensible and allow you to laugh heartily at someone who supports things like the minimum wage. The problem arises when the dumb minimum wage supporter actually ends up being right for a more complicated reason. That enrages the libertarian because even though he was clearly cleverer than the average minimum wage supporter, he is ultimately wrong. That insufferable reality drives the ashamed libertarian to clutch on to Bastiat even as Bastiat is shredded. Bastiat still allows them to point out how stupid the reasoning of the bulk of minimum wage supporters is even if their policy conclusions wind up being right. In that way, Bastiat allows the libertarian to preserve his status as super-clever even if he is actually wrong.
Libertarians love really flashy simple arguments that ultimately fall to pieces. A sophisticated debate doesn’t score the big humiliation points because it’s so complicated. Since Bastiat is truly irrelevant when it comes to modern debates on the kind of issues he discusses, the libertarian is in a bad spot. He wants to pretend to be clever and better than everyone else in his grand powers of reasoning, but he cannot really do that anymore. So instead the modern libertarian brings up Bastiat to show how clever he is and how stupid everyone else is, and then makes up some post-hoc bullshit about how discussing Bastiat is actually meaningful when it isn’t.
The Never-Ending Libertarian Quest to Appear Clever
Don’t Blame Unions for Police Brutality
(07 May 2015)
Recently, much attention has been paid to cops behaving the way cops often behave: killing blacks, harassing blacks, abusing blacks, and so on. One line of commentary on this newfound interest in long-standing cop abuse is that this abuse is the fault of (or cannot be stopped because of) police unions. While I have no particular interest in police unions per se, I must say that I find this a rather laughable simplification.
For starters, police are unionized basically everywhere in the world. Canada has police unions. The United Kingdom has police unions. Australia has police unions. The Nordics (Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland) all have police unions, which are then further organized into a broader Nordic police union federation (Nordiska Polisförbundet), which itself is further organized into the broader European police union federation (EuroCOP).
Despite this rampant police unionization all over the world, you don’t see police abuse on anywhere near the scale you see in the US. Why might that be? I speculate that it’s because the issue is really something else entirely, perhaps unique levels of sadism, racism, urban soldier nutcase mentalities, and a political society that is, in fact, heavily supportive of police abuse directed at non-whites.
How to Vote Properly
(14 April 2015)
Are you big into economic policies that deliver for the poor and working classes? In much of Europe, that means you vote for the party that says “labor,” “social democratic,” or “socialist” in the name. In the US, that usually means you have no real option, but you vote for the Democrats because at least they aren’t the Republicans. Are you big into ethno-nationalism? Vote for the party that’s always going on about how immigration is super bad. You got options in nearly every European country, and they appear to be getting more popular by the day. In the US, that’s the Republicans. Are you super into environmental stuff? Look for “green” in the name. You mostly mad about gay marriage and abortion and whatnot? Usually, you can’t go wrong with a Christian Democratic party, or in the US stick with the Republicans.
The Wisdom of Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Another great thing about Matt Stoker Bruenig is that he is married to another insightful intellectual: Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig. So I’m going to present some of the wisdom that I’m published from her. She does not generally write about economics. She is a liberal Christian, and it is really nice to be read someone talk about modern politics from that perspective. When I read her, I feel Jesus in her heart. There is no dogma. There is just a commitment Jesus’ teachings. It’s really refreshing.
The Purpose of Vaccination
(2 July 2015)
Parents who identify vaccination as a personal choice made for themselves and their own children misunderstand vaccination as a concept. Most people will survive childhood illnesses without the aid of a vaccine; vaccines are not administered on behalf of these people, though they do help them avoid the non-lethal downsides of disease, such as temporary discomfort and long-term injury. Vaccines are rather administered on behalf of people who cannot receive them, and people who would not survive the illnesses they protect against based on deficits in their own immune systems. These people include the very old, the very young, and those already suffering: people with HIV/AIDS, people going through chemotherapy, pregnant women, and people who have never had strong defenses of their own. Widespread vaccination of healthy people creates “community immunity” or “herd immunity,” which prevents illnesses from penetrating groups where vulnerable people live, thus saving their lives.
—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
The Christian Case for Vaccinating Children
Convenient Republican Catholicism
<23 June 2015>
Jeb Bush wants you to know he won’t be taking marching orders from Pope Francis when it comes to political or economic matters. “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” Bush said at a campaign stop Tuesday. “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.” Bush’s comments echo similar statements made by Rick Santorum, who said in a June 7 interview that the Church should stay away from matters of science and policy and stick to “theology and morality.” As election season commences, questions about Pope Francis will likely surface repeatedly in candidate question-and-answer sessions, in no small part because the Republican primary field is stocked with Catholics: George Pataki, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio (who also doubts Francis’s capacity to contribute to political matters), along with Bush and Santorum.
The categories Bush and Santorum rely on to restrict religious reasoning to convenient subjects are, of course, porous and unstable. Bush has shown no signs of attempting to exclude religion from politics per se; during the ugly, protracted 2005 struggle over the life of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman on life support in a persistent vegetative state, Bush campaigned fiercely to keep Schiavo alive. As governor of Florida, Bush was also a reliable anti-abortion advocate. The same is true of Santorum. Both have linked their pro-life politics to their faith. These politicians appear to have no principled objection to religious reasoning governing aspects of political action; the objection that church and state should scarcely mingle only arises when religion becomes inconvenient to capital, as in the case of Francis’s entire papacy.
—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Pope Francis’s Vision of a Moral Ecology Will Challenge Both Republicans and Democrats
Is the Pope Christian or Communist?
If you pay much attention to the media in the coming weeks, you might find yourself wondering whether or not Pope Francis is a communist. Bad-faith political mislabeling of Francis is, by this early point in his papacy, already distressingly common: Rush Limbaugh has accused the pontiff of espousing Marxism and socialism, a pair of claims that Fox host Sean Hannity later echoed. These feverish charges arose as a result of several of Francis’ statements about the failures of trickle-down economics and the ravages of inequality. But the latest round of McCarthy-esque red-spotting is due to conservative nervousness about Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on the environment, expected to be released June 18.
Though yet unreleased, the encyclical has already engendered anxious rightward fretting about Francis’ socialist and/or Marxist tendencies from the National Review Online, Catholic journal First Things, and even the BBC, which featured a June 7 article declaring that “[Pope Francis] will be a polarising presence, and the question ‘Is the pope a communist?’ will really matter.”
There are several reasons why this question will never really matter, and an almost infinite plenitude of reasons it is an absurd one in the first place. For starters, those probing whether or not Pope Francis is himself a communist, socialist, or Marxist (these terms are interchangeable on the right) are not really interested in discovering what Francis’ own personal politics are. After all, that information is readily available. As longtime Vatican reporter John L. Allen wrote last week in a Crux essay on Francis’ forthcoming encyclical, “If you asked, [Francis would] probably tell you he comes out of the moderate wing of Argentina’s Peronist movement.” Biographies of Francis, including The Great Reformer by seasoned Catholic journalist Austen Ivereigh, have similarly turned up no evidence that Francis has ever held membership in any communist party.
But the pundits accusing Francis of communism do not really seem to view communism as a political orientation, wherein one advocates for reform through participation in routine political activities, like campaigning, fundraising, electioneering, and so on. This is because in the United States, there are only two partisan avenues to political impact: Republican and Democrat. The presence of any partisan communists in America is so vanishingly small that communism is instead interpreted as an ideological pose, specifically opposite of the pro-capitalist priors common to both Republicans and Democrats. In other words, you don’t have to actually partake in any communist politics to qualify as a communist in the United States, you just have to show insufficient satisfaction with capitalism…
Suspicion of the types of accumulation that characterize capitalism — including the massive build-up of wealth among a small number of unimaginably rich plutocrats — is therefore more common to Christianity than the unreserved embrace of the same that is now typical of American right-wingers. Rather than asking if Pope Francis’ positions on reducing inequality and protecting the environment are products of communism, it would be much wiser and more insightful to ask if conservative rejection of environmentalism and egalitarianism are really products of Christianity. This would at least provide context for the tidal wave of rueful tears that will undoubtedly follow the publication of Francis’ encyclical on the environment, which will rankle the pontiff’s critics not because Francis’ thought is communist, but because it is Christian.
—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Pope Francis Is a Christian, Not a Communist
Fighting Nepotism With Welfare
<13 May 2015)
The sudden swell of praise for filial favoritism among conservative pundits comes as no surprise: combine a heavy emphasis on family values with an equally intense desire for money, and the outcome is what we from the South recognize as good ol’ boy networks, wherein a hapless dweeb who can barely manage a baseball team stumbles into the presidency because his daddy made a good run of it. Examples of the perils of nepotism are scattered throughout history, with lunatic kings and savage tsars and incompetent princes galore. But these are extreme cases. And furthermore, I suspect Williamson and Brooks are correct when they suggest that there really is neither an effective nor humane way to put an end to the many unearned advantages some lucky offspring glean from their kin.
Families will always prefer their own, and parents will always be inclined to do whatever is in their power to secure a future for their children. None of this is inherently wrong; indeed, these are the same impulses that have perpetuated the human race. The trouble is that some dynasties accumulate so much wealth and influence that the social mobility of other, less fortunate children becomes increasingly unlikely. Where Williamson and Brooks are wrong is to presume the solution to this problem needs to involve some tinkering with families themselves…
So I guess that, in the end, I’m with Williamson and Brooks: nepotism is here to stay, and there’s no sense in fighting the partiality of parents for their children, especially when it comes to jobs. To respect the sanctity of those family relationships — and to save the conservative commentariat the horror of anti-nepotism policies — we need only to make sure no other person’s future is compromised, which means putting a strong system of wealth transfer programs in place. Thus, poor kids everywhere can rejoice: welfare is (rich) family-friendly after all!
—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Welfare Is the Best Weapon Against Nepotism
Improve Morality by Lowing Poverty
(15 March 2015)
In his Tuesday column, “The Cost of Relativism,” The New York Times’ David Brooks cites a new book of research on “the growing chasm between those who live in college-educated America and those who live in high-school-educated America,” and highlights several “horrific” profiles from the latter group. Brooks uses their stories — which feature drugs, violent crime, unintended pregnancies — to argue for the reintroduction of social norms, which “were destroyed by a plague of nonjudgmentalism.” …
Now, if Brooks imagines that improving social norms is just a sliver of the solution, then he’s right: making poor families better off won’t erase all behavioral differences between the wealthiest and poorest. But it would go a long way. Despite all paranoia about poor people nursing addictions and indulging themselves before spending money on necessities, programs that distribute cash to the poor have been repeatedly proven as wise investments. People who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or “food stamps,” tend to make healthier food choices than those who don’t use SNAP; they also tend to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables when provisions (such as small credits for buying fresh fruits and veggies) are made that account for the extra cost of cooking multi-item meals. And, as a 2005 British study found, low-income parents who are given benefits to help raise young children “increased spending on items such as children’s clothing, books, and toys, and decreased spending on alcohol and tobacco.” In other words, reducing poverty through infusions of cash appears to correct many of the behaviors poor people are regularly maligned for, including neglectful parenting and unhealthy lifestyles, bringing them more in line with the habits of the well-to-do.
Morality should teach us how to live a good life. But to impose the easy virtue of the well-to-do on the poor is to request the most stressed and vulnerable members of society to display impossible moral heroism. To abstain from relationships, sex, and childbirth until financially secure enough to raise a child without assistance would mean, for many, a life of celibacy; to pour limited resources into education in order to score a respectable job would mean failing to make rent. If the problems plaguing poor communities persist after poverty is drastically reduced, that would seem an appropriate time to pursue the matter of a better “moral vocabulary,” as Brooks calls it — and even then, the participation of low-income communities would be essential. But before that conversation can happen, the obvious solution to the “chaos” Brooks observes among poor communities is to reduce poverty, and let its moral quandaries resolve on their own.
—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Poor People Don’t Need Better Social Norms. They Need Better Social Policies.
Christian Ethics and the Environment
(4 February 2015)
In Forbes, Steve Moore accused Pope Francis of advancing a “modern pagan green religion,” and proclaimed that the encyclical will, through circuitous routes, “make the poor poorer.” On a December 30th edition of Fox‘s Special Report, correspondent Doug McKelway surmised the letter would put Pope Francis in line with “environmental extremists who favor widespread birth control.” Crisis Magazine, a hard right Catholic publication, featured a piece by Rachel Lu suggesting the unpublished encyclical “smack[s] of intellectual faddism,” while Maureen Mullarkey opined in a First Things post that Francis’ letter is evidence that “he is an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist.” …
I’m sure most of these people have no idea why they reject this stuff strongly enough to accuse Pope Francis of being a narcissist, pagan, and supporter of eco-terrorism based on an encyclical they haven’t read a word of because it hasn’t been published yet. However, it is pretty clear to me why the issue is such a nightmare for rightwing thought-generators.
The liberal story on property is that civil society, and thereby the flourishing of all, is premised upon a kind of absolutized system of property rights, in which the self-sovereignty of each person is guaranteed by their right to self-ownership and ownership of goods…
Of course, as I have repeatedly shown, the Christian theory of property has always been premised upon the good of humanity and the flourishing of all people; the Lockean-liberal story on property, on the other hand, “includes a neat justification of gross inequality,” as per [Ellen Meiksins] Wood. If Pope Francis’ encyclical says we are obligated to use all our tools (states included) to regulate the use of property so that future generations and persons outside our immediate geographic zones don’t endure the runoff of our carelessness, then his statement will be entirely in keeping with Christian tradition.
Which is precisely why the rightwing should be afraid.
—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Property-Based Ethics: Environment Edition