A Reply to James Pinkerton and the “Populist Right”

I recently came across an article on Breitbart by James P. Pinkerton, outlining a new 60% majority, center-right, Populist Right coalition that combined some more traditional aspects of the conservative coalition (including supply-side economics and rolling back mass immigration), with the ‘good parts’ of the moderate Left, notably New Deal FDR Democrats, neo-Keynesians and the idea of building public works. In it, he quoted our dear friend Lord Keynes and his blog http://socialdemocracy21stcentury.blogspot.com/ (as I’m sure you have all visited it):

Yet the neo-New Dealers are still around, even if submerged. We see them, for example, in the labor movement and among workers in general—they actively want better jobs at higher wages. Indeed, we might posit that many of today’s young trendy-lefty types will grow up and discover that they actually need jobs and houses of their own; thus we can see, many of them, too, are likely to change their views.

Indeed, New Deal-minded Democrats would be delighted to be working against the far-left enemies of the lunch-bucket welfare state, including the Malthusians and the mass-immigrationists.

We can find a repository of such constructive thinking in an influential blog, Social Democracy for the 21st Century: A Realist Alternative to the Modern Left; the author, interestingly, goes by the handle @Lord_Keynes2. On September 7, LK outlined an Old Left manifesto: It includes, of course, a denunciation of libertarianism and neoliberalism—not much of a surprise there.  But then LK breaks with the familiar left, offering instead those centrist platform planks:

Rejection of the extreme aspects of cultural leftism . . . rejection of open borders and mass immigration.

Indeed, LK goes even further, telling Old Leftists that they should take seriously a core conservative idea:

Be open to serious and rational discussion of the breakdown of the nuclear family in the Western world, and what harm this may have done to our societies.

So we can see that not everyone on the left wants the crazies to be in charge.

After an exchange of words over twitter, he is now a follower of both LK and myself. So, how should we, on the Realist / Old / Alt Left interperet this all? I view it positively for a variety of reasons.

Ultimately, the goal of the Realist Left is to provide a working framework and philosophy of how our Political Economy should be run; to attract those from across the spectrum to our broad viewpoint, particularly on the center-left and Left, but also among left-leaning Populists, Christian conservatives, “Alt Righters” with non-right leanings, moderates, and pro-free speech civic libertarians. Common to all of these groups include some distate towards the current neo-liberal economic right and cultural Left found in most of the establishment sources of information, from the media to business and academia. We think the Realist Left provides a workable alternative acceptable to many different groups, and promotes a good set of values that is best for poor, working and middle class people, and is best for economic growth. We also think it’s a broadly popular grouping of values politically.

Now we come to find out that there are some on the Populist Right that wish to adopt some of our good economic ideas of public infrastructure and counter-cyclical fiscal policy, in an attempt to bring them towards a supermajority coalition. They essentially wish to attract the same people that we are trying to attract! Thus, shouldn’t we be antagonistic to their effort to attract the same group of people we’re trying to attract? No, and here’s why:

  1. The more pro-working and middle class, more pro-economic growth policies that all political parties hold, the more that we accomplish our goals for a better society. Think about Tory Keynesianism or Nixon’s “We are all Keynesian now” philosophy. We should definitely encourage an end to anti-growth, anti-family, anti-worker policies that are prevalent on the right, because after all, they are in charge of many governments, or chambers of government around the world, and if they aren’t, they will be at some point in the future. We are not a political party. It is a success for everyone if the “Right” means Eisenhower, Nixon, Heath, Eden, MacMillan, Deifenbaker or DeGaulle, and not Reagan, Thatcher, Bush, Cameron or Harper. We do not have the interests of a particular political party in mind, whose success is determined by their electoral victory and not the policies they put in place once they come to office. Thus, we do not wish the other party to become more extreme and in opposition the interests of your average person, even if that theoretically means more Democrat, Labour or Liberal/NDPs can be elected as moderates break towards “our side”. Instead, we would prefer that all political parties develop more sensible policies and convince their supporters to embrace those sensible policies.
  2. In that same vein, if the Populist Right and Realist Left were to both gain in support, yet not achieve ascendency within our own “respective parties”, then it at least opens up the possibility for cross-party co-operation, particularly in the US where voting against a party’s whipped vote is more acceptable, but also in Parliamentary systems where coalition and minority governments are becoming more common. If a Democratic presidency could gain the support of Republicans in Congress to implement massive public infrastructure investments, all the better! If a Republican president could find Democratic votes to help the economy grow with a combination of (non-rich) tax cuts and public investments to eventually achieve a sub-4%, Full Employment economy, all the better! And we would hope that any future immigration reform bill would limit, rather than increase, anti-worker, pro-corporate programs such as the H1b visa or the Guest Worker program that favors powerful interest groups from Silicon Valley to Agribusinesses. So we both have a major stake in improving the “sanity” of our own respective coalitions.

 

Now, we will still want to promote our own movement and philosophy. Let’s not pretend that we’re on same page, as we still have quite a bit of disagreements on a wide range of issues. Climate Change, for example, is one thing that we think is real and should be addressed in an intelligent manner, even if we’re in agreement that it shouldn’t be addressed in an anti-growth manner like some Greens would advocate. We might broadly disagree on social issues, law-and-order issues, or about supply-side economics in general. However, as clearly outlined above, we both think that encouraging the sensible wings of the political spectrum is a positive and worthwhile goal for everyone involved. It only means that we have to be better, smarter and more active to attract those broad groups of people either on the fence or are able to be convinced of a better way forward. It’s certainly better that the person inclined towards populism or civic libertarianism chooses the Realist Left than the Populist Right. However, it’s also certainly better for our own goals that a right-leaning person chooses the Populist Right over the mainstream Conservative or Libertarian movements.

Given the dissatisfaction with the status-quo neoliberalism on both the right and left, I think and hope that this progression of better ideas will continue to be the case in the future across the political spectrum.

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