Piketty on the "Brahmin left" and the "merchant right"

No, that’s not the case. The civil rights movement was active for all of the twentieth century. It didn’t start with the lynching of Emmett Till and the Bus Boycott, it had been ongoing for decades by that point. The modern movement arguable goes back to the 19th, as Jim Crow was being built across the south.


And the Carter administration came AFTER Nixon, yeah? Pretty much from Nixon on, it’s a shift toward deregulation, with Reagan being a key figure in that movement.


And of course it grew out of the abolitionist movement. Really, racism and opposition to racism is one of, if not the central theme of the U.S…

Okay. I’m fully aware of that. I was responding to a poster who assumed differently.


Mr Stephenson’s near-future dystopias are starting to look like documentaries. I think he has nailed it in that extract.

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There was a time when I might’ve jumped into this with an “it’s more nuanced than that” kind of reply, but that’s started to ring a bit hollow to me. As a white American born in the South, I’ve started to hear disturbing similarities between the sort of apology that claims there’s something more subtle going on in America than rank bigotry and the old canard among Confederate apologists that the Civil War was about something more nuanced than slavery. In either case of course there are finer details to parse, but in either case making that case is most often a moral whitewash that purposely directs attention away from the forest by pointing out interesting details of the trees, because the forest is pretty unpleasant to face.

The US is structurally and culturally racist. Most of the weird internal quirks of our government that cause us persistent consternation (e.g., the Electoral College) were born not because of the unassailable and ineffable wisdom of our remote “Founders,” but because those founders deeply compromised their intentions in order to protect slaveholding states from abolitionists. We’ve had almost 250 years to fix those compromises, long after the institution motivating them was destroyed, but instead we’ve entrenched them all the more deeply, and compounded them with new racist-motivated policies. America’s cutthroat “winners and losers” mentality is just thinly coded racism. The “losers” people don’t want to support with their tax dollars or grant even the most basic social framework other developed nations take for granted are invariably offensive minority stereotypes. You’ll even hear right-wing apologists explicitly say that social programs can work in Scandinavia but not the US because those other nations are “more homogenous.” They can’t mean economically homogenous, because that would beg the question: it’s the policies we allegedly can’t implement here that foster a more homogenous economy. The sentiment in America is, “we can’t do that here because lazy brown people would take advantage of hardworking white people.” And Americans buy that, one election cycle after another. We have this ongoing game we play where we cannot write laws that explicitly discriminate on the basis of race, so we write laws that nominally apply to everyone, but in practical effect cut with laser precision against already-disadvantaged minority communities. When the laws do cut against poor white people as well, they’ll mythologize their own heroic struggle and still vote for those policies to prevent poor nonwhites from benefiting.

America is going to pieces because a solid plurality of the nation has never been able to adapt to the idea of black people as their legal and moral equals, and because it’s been more expedient for power brokers all over the spectrum, at various times, to exploit that rather than correct it. We are fish and structural racism is the water we don’t fully perceive because we swim in it our whole lives. That’s why class issues are so hard to tease apart from issues of race in America: the issues of race saturate everything.


This will definitely be on my must-read list. Sounds like Piketty has the situation spot-on, but I wonder if he goes into the causes for this shift. For me, Thomas Ferguson’s Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems , which posits that political parties and candidates don’t really compete for votes from rank-and-file voters, but for money from large, powerful investors, is still the best assessment of the influence of money in politics and the decline of the true “Left”.

Ferguson documents how the offshoring of jobs and the collapse of trade unions weakened the Democratic Party and how Bill Clinton revived it by aligning with emerging Financial and Tech Industries. It was visionary, at the time, to align with the industries that would end up having more power and influence over the coming post-2000 economy than those that made up the traditional Republican voting block, but the end result is we essentially have two oligarch parties: The Democrat New Money wing (Wall Street, Big Tech, Mass Media) vs. The Republican Old Money wing (Fossil Fuels, Manufacturing, Arms). Both parties have become parties of elites. Ferguson saw the writing on the wall in '95.


I wasn’t providing a cause, rather on observation. decline: “typically of something regarded as good become smaller, fewer, or less; decrease.”

Of course you’re all right. I’m no historian, but I imagine the backlash to civil rights among working people really took hold widely when it became apparent that black Americans would be able to legally claim their fair share of government benefits. They had been discriminated against in Social Security (which didn’t cover domestic or agricultural workers), in mortgages (via redlining). But in the 60s, it became clear that might not last.
Socialism and unionization had always been readily accepted by the white working class as long as it was restricted to them. Someone clever called it the “herrenvolk welfare state.”

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“The salient fact of American politics is that there are fifty to seventy million voters each of who will volunteer to live, with his family, in a cardboard box under an overpass, and cook sparrows on an old curtain rod, if someone would only guarantee that the black, gay, Hispanic, liberal, whatever, in the next box over doesn’t even have a curtain rod, or a sparrow to put on it.”

Source: 27 Percenters in this lexicon.


I think you bring up a very important point in observing that essentially broken trust in American institutions paved way for Reaganism. Prior to Nixon however it would appear that America’s involvement in Vietnam was already well on the way to destroying the “liberal consensus”. After all Nixon, the Republican candidate, now promised to end the war! But certainly 1968 was a watershed year in that regard. The Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and M.L.K., the race riots, the Democratic national convention debacle…culminating in Nixon’s election …the year that broke America.

And when the Pentagon Papers came to light three years later, it was made clear that both parties had sold the American people a bill of goods.


“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” L.B.J.


And the only way to counter that is to point out that people’s pockets are being picked, and get them to unite against the pickpockets and demand their fair share. That’s how we made progress in the 20th century- the offer from the left to counter “divide and rule” was “unite and take back your fair share, with equal treatment for all.”


It’s that “all” thing that is the problem. And in case anyone hearing it fails to understand this includes people they’d rather remained downtrodden, it merely needs to be labelled “socialism” to ensure universal rejection (but only in the USA).

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The backlash there, too started much earlier. A good example is the infamous “Red Summer” in 1919 was series of massacres of African Americans who came back from the war radicalized, and ready to push for civil rights. The movement was much more radical in the interwar period as well… Some of the key figures were out and out socialists or communists (DuBois and the great vocalist Paul Robeson). Quite a few made pilgrimages to the Soviet Union. An excellent book about the radicalism of civil rights in this era is Glenda Gilmore’s Defying Dixie, which charts the radicalism, but also the international orientation of the movement during that time:

Pretty much whenever African Americans pushed hard on civil rights, there was a violent backlash, including during the 60s. My answer to that quandary when i teach this history in class is that there were more white Americans willing to get on board with civil rights, as so many Americans (of all races) had just lived through the second world war, and not too few men (among them my own grandfather) had participated in liberating the camps of nazi germany and having to come to terms, not just with the usual traumas of war, but also with the fact that they’d just been witness to end result of a racially-based genocide. Even if you hold some racist beliefs, that’s got to have an effect on your mind set. Plus, the Soviets used entirely factual stories about the violence aimed at civil rights activists against the US on a global stage, and here we are trying to get these newly forming African nations on board with our policies. This is part of why the political establishment was on board, in addition to quite a few embracing antiracism on an international platform (Eleanor Roosevelt, for one).

We’ve moved far enough away from the second world war where most participants in the war are dying off, including survivors of the holocaust, and so it’s becoming like Stalin said - a mere statistic, instead of the tragedy that it was.

That’s depressingly true, from the beginning, too. Not all union members of course, but enough that it’s something that labor historians have to seriously wrestle with. I’ve done some work with oral histories, so have seen some of that racism among some white union members. It’s depressing.


And adult males.


The GOP did fundamentally change - for the worse. They reached a point where their pervasive gerrymandering was no longer sufficient to make up for their diminishing demographic, so they enlisted the aid of a foreign power by selecting a leader with connections to said power. Through social media manipulation and possibly through vote tampering, they tipped the scales just enough to eke out a slim electoral college margin.

For reference, the Republican Party is incapable of retrospection either at the organizational level or the personal level. They cannot admit or accept error on their part, making their only course of action to keep doing what they’re doing, but more so.


(Italics mine)

OK all very well but Labour are not trying to bring back the 70’s.

Much and all that it could even happen while the government are selling England by the Pound.

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I’m not talking about Labour, I’m talking about Corbyn and his Eurosceptic 1970s-vintage dream of a go-it-alone socialist Britain.

It’s great that he’s moved the party away from Third Way politics, but if he doesn’t acknowledge the critical need for the UK to stay in the EU he’s just failing the country’s young people 8n a different way than the Tories are.


Getting back to Piketty’s theories, it looks like he’s just been given a perfect example of his theories playing out in what is currently Spain.

Here, the centre-left PSOE might be unable to form a government, because they refuse to work with the left wing populists in Podemos, and instead want to form a coalition with the right-wing and fiercely anti-autonomist Citizens party.