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

Virulent racism is definitely an aspect of the divide between the two elite groups (as is overt sexism), but ultimately it’s still a function of the merchant right’s culture of anti-intellectualism. The merchant right hates academia (the wellspring of the Brahmin left) in part because it’s willing to acknowledge and discuss America’s original sins and also because it aspires to diversity like few other American institutions.

A liberal or progressive with an undergrad degree knows that the conservative and Libertarian elites’ narratives of American history, economics, and current affairs that they tell themselves and that they sell to their marks are patently bogus. This is also why an educated electorate, even more than a racially diverse one, is the modern GOP’s biggest enemy. This is also why movement conservatism has been launching so many aggressive and well-funded multi-pronged attacks on colleges and universities over the past decades.

That’s not to let the Brahmin left completely off the hook when it comes to America’s deeply ingrained racism; they’re just not as virulent about it and tend to mask it with NIMBYism and other more classist approaches that an educated person can stroke his chin over. Watch what happens whenever a city wants to build new transit stops or public housing in a wealthy white liberal enclave, for example.

Only in the “turkeys voting for Christmas” sense, where the merchant right gulls the Know-Nothings and Temporarily Embarassed Millionaires of the GOP base into repeatedly voting against their actual economic self-interests (as opposed to the relatively empty economic “self-interest” of preserving skin privilege).

The current right-wing populist twist on things is what happens when the marks start suspecting that they’ve been conned: the merchant right starts making “elite” a mainly cultural and social class rather than an economic one, easily shifting the focus to neoliberal-lite Brahmins as a distraction from their own hardcore “free” market fundamentalism that’s real source of the Know-Nothing suckers’ woes.


77% of non-white non-college grads voted for clinton; where 66% of white non-college grads voted for trump. the only difference there is race, not education.

basically, something happens to white people when they go to college. and i think it’s simply world experience.

higher education dilutes the white vote because that’s the way white people most often break out of their segregated bubbles – bubbles that were created by law and economic power.

but it’s not the only way. diverse cities are “coincidentally” strongholds of white left leaning voters regardless of education level. diverse workforces can be as well. ( part of union busting maybe? ) early education can be as well, if integration is a priority.

that’s my point though. economic concerns aren’t people’s only concerns. we aren’t consumers first. we’re … people.

people generally want stable lives filled with meaning. most are more than happy to work themselves to the bone if they are achieving those goals.

in a society where there are race based divides, continued segregation can be ( for some part ) of that goal. and they are, and have been, willing to make economic sacrifices towards that end.

where we see: tax cuts for the rich will hurt working class people; they see: tax cuts for (white) rich people will continue the white cultural hegemony – all that stuff im used to. where we see: free education or free healthcare for all; they see: increasing access for non-whites. etc.

perhaps there’s an economic analysis that could be made from their voting records. namely, how much are people willing to pay to keep society segregated? it does seems to be quite a bit. but, it doesn’t mean they’ve been conned into paying.


I suspect that the change in working class party affiliation had something to do with civil rights not yet being much of a thing.

Few people only vote economic self-interest. People also vote culturally and are willing to take an economic hit. Should be obvious by now. Look at Brexit: Leave the EU so we can have more money! We’ll have less money? Then leave the EU so we can achieve solidarity in hard times!


Very true. What’s happened, though, is that economic concerns have come to the forefront as the postwar economic anomaly came to an end in the early 2000s. Inequality is more apparent, and so overt, overt racism becomes more of a lever for the merchant right to use to distract the marks from having their pockets picked (not that they haven’t used it since 1968, but until recently it’s been more the Lee Atwater dog-whistle variety). Educated people tend to understand this better than uneducated people – educated conservatives exploit it while Brahmin liberals deplore it.

If “they” are the merchant right, sure. If you’re talking about their suckers, that’s another matter. It was true of the marks during the good economic times when they could convince themselves they had a shot; now, not so much.

It would be an interesting analysis over a 40-year period. My guess, as a rule of thumb, is that when economic times are good and inequality is relatively low, it’s harder to convince the suckers to focus on people of other races as much of a threat. But yes, ultimately it is a grift: stealing $100 from Joe Duh Plumber thanks to “free”-market economics and then handing $1 back to him as a reward for being white.

I’m not saying that they only vote on the basis of economic self-interest; voting culturally plays a part as well, and the merchant right is constantly adjusting which message they’re pushing to the rubes. In good economic times it’s “stick with us and you too can be a mill-yon-aire like me”; in tougher times it’s “you’re suffering because the librul elites are giving free stuff to people with brown and black skin instead of you”.

However they’re susceptible to being conned, the Know-Nothing 27% are natural born suckers and ignoramuses completely in thrall to establishment conservatives (at best) and the far right (as is the case now). It does the Brahmin left no good to try to appeal to them on either an economic or a cultural basis (which still leaves a wide swath of non-elite working voters that they could appeal to if they had the will and as they once did before the 1980s – this is part of Piketty’s argument).


okay, i relent.

still, if anyone fits that bill, it’s the educated white folks. where else did libertarians come from? or the belief that we are post-racism? neither of these were the province of the working class; that’s all from college-educated whites.

the magical thinking is that economic policy will fix social ills. that it’s possible to have virtue without actually confronting pain.

perhaps people are finally waking up to the realization that corporate capitalism won’t work; but it’s all inception out in there. a con within a con. b/c politics is not an economic issue at its heart. not in america at least.

for sure. the failures of the policies are always placed at the feet of someone else. you don’t need someone to blame when times are good after all.

vis a vis: the rubes.

  1. middle class whites still believe that economics will fix america’s problems
  2. middle class whites still think they are not the ones to blame.

the rubes are always someone else.

initially, the only representation was for people who were white. and that’s remained true in many areas even until now.

how can any sound analysis of american voting patterns not start there?


While I love theorizing over all kind of BS, this is too far of.
Piketty jerks of on his interpretation of numbers, and those are mostly isolated data series.
He can’t distinct correlation from cause and just makes up stuff as he goes.
I even doubt the Brahmin left exists in the form he describes. To Piketty everyone go gains wealth, success has to turn away from a socialist approach on society.
This is his basic argument band there is no proof or stable theory basing that.

I have a shower-thougt theory as well: In a Gauss distributed ‘market’ the major parties converge to centrism and administrative(dodging all actions that would have actual consequences for the VOTERBASE). This in a time where every aspect of live becomes obviously more complex, this makes voters wanting easy answers and ‘guidance’ susceptible to leader figures and extreme authoritarian stance. And this is working on both ends of the “left/right” spectrum.

Open a stalinist left party, openly thinking (but not acting) to expropriate billionaires, lobbyists and send them to gulags for being enemies of the community and you get voted just like those caging in immigrants.

Isn’t the present Democratic Party already well on it’s way to an expression of this new alignment, as the party of Trump moves further and further to the paranoid style of the illiberal right? Does anyone really believe that Sanders or Warren will clinch the nomination, or that if one of them wins the Presidency there will be an about face and the oligarchy will relent? Haven’t we already seen this movie? Conservative moderates and intellectuals have long abandoned the GOP.; for all intents and purposes those that remain are fascists, or at least fascist enablers (and I don’t fret much about differentiating between the two). As the GOP self-immolates, it is only natural that in order for the Democratic Party to capture independents and disavowed Republicans it will remain in the center. Voila! Status quo achieved!

Come on. You mean to tell me the left won’t get the white working class vote (or the lower-middle class suburban vote for that matter) by prattling on about the patriarchy, gender neutral pronouns and the like? :wink:

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Short version: The post-war economic boom didn’t last. American industry and manufacturing got hollowed out by global competition. Decline of unions.

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It’s not either/or. I am not interested in getting rid of the old class system just to replace it with a new one. If someone throws me under the bus to gain more support then they are the enemy. I don’t care if they think they are left or right.


Who’s throwing who under the bus? Politics will always be about coalitions and compromises. Unless you like losing. But hey that’s what the left does best…find ways to divide itself into internecine factions…So you’ll be content with the status quo then? Do you ever respectfully discuss politics with people outside your progressive circle (and I’m not talking about rabid Trumpers; fuck them)? Sincere question.

Furthermore, you took my smiley-face emoji away! That comment was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and cheeky :wink:

On a strictly strategic note, and before everyone piles on en masse, as in please don’t take it personally (!), I am sincerely convinced that some of the excesses of progressive political correctness (for lack of a better phrase) are detrimental to the cause of creating a viable (as in electable) social democracy movement. Peace.

Me, personally? TERFs. Trans people have a long history of being thrown under the bus.

You can talk about coalitions and compromise all you like, but when certain groups want to reintroduce sluggish schizophrenia as an diagnosis for trans people they kill any possibility for me to do so. It’s a bit more life and death for me than it is for cis people.

I don’t think I have had an IRL discussion with a Communalist outside of an anarchist bookfair, so yes I do.


No argument there.

Never heard of it. Positively draconian. That certainly wouldn’t be my opinion, or anyone I know or associate with for that matter; and that includes even a few rednecks and small ‘c’ conservatives, mostly white cis-peeps. But I live in Canada, and we’re a little more tolerant as rule I suppose…

The kinds of people who would subscribe to and/or enforce such reprehensible shit are our common enemy; history bears that out. That said I would not expect you to agree with me on everything, and I would not expect to agree with you on everything, probably not even very many things I don’t know! That’s what I mean by compromise. It doesn’t mean you have to compromise your values anymore than I have to compromise mine. After all, I might be just as stubborn as you. But it might mean that from a strategic point of view we agree to bury the hatchet on few points in the interest of our shared values and concerns, aware of the stakes as we both are.


I’d go a step further with that, even. I always tell my American friends that the entire political system in Canada is left of the US Democrats. Our most fringey right wing nuts in office couldn’t even get elected down here in the US for being too far left. I say that as someone who has clocked 20 years of residence in each country and it still amazes me what a different perspective Americans have on the world compared to every other developed democracy.


No doubt. A lot of this is a matter of terminology and recognising that this is about culture more than economic class. The bulk of Il Douche’s voters in 2016 were white suburban males with post-secondary credentials. Notice I don’t say “college educations”, which would be more accurately applied to your typical member of the Brahmin left. These are guys who saw college or vocational school as a nuisance they had to go through before starting real middle-class life as a permanent middle manager or interchangeable coding grunt or tradesperson.

Some in that group were part of the Know-Nothing 27% – virulently racist, Xtianist, neoliberalism’s losers, etc. – who happened to have a post-secondary certificate or diploma. Most, though, were just spite voters who don’t care as much about race or economics as they did just sticking it to the liberals.

I also left out “middle class” from the common description of these voters because it’s also misleading. While they may have the veneer of the middle class, most of them are deep in consumer debt to keep up appearances and keep the mortgage paid. They’re still living within your Inception model insofar as they think there’s an economic solution, but now that they’re starting to suspect that neoliberalism might not have delivered for them their “solution” is to go after the Brahmin left and (in the view of some) all the dark-skinned people they’re supposedly trying to raise up over the white man.

What these voters have in common, more than racism and more than economic philosophy, is that they see college either as a way to get a work credential while partying and going to games (at best) or as Marxist brainwashing camp (at worst) or sometimes both. Actual education is what makes for a real member of America’s evil elite in their view: someone who went to college to learn and broaden and truly educate themselves, and who makes more money than they ever will as a result.

That all goes to the merchant right elite’s anti-intellectual cultural viewpoint that makes it very difficult for them to ally with the Brahmin left in a political bloc (absent extreme duress, which we might yet see).


Just wanted to say this seems like a very perceptive analysis, and (as I’ve said before) the only solution is education - of the real and transforming kind. For some of these entitled, blinkered fuckwits, indoctrination may be the only way to ‘educate’ them. Kind of like some sort of anti-cult de-brainwashing programme used for those caught up in ‘religious’ cults or as used for de-radicalising right-wing or muslim radicals.


Which is why IMHO simply dividing US politics along a single left-right axis can obscure as much as it illustrates.


And yet one of the few relatively successful* examples of de-regulation, the elimination of the Civil Aviation Board, which had the power to approve or deny airline schedules and rates was done under the Carter administration.

*much lower prices for most travelers, but more crowded planes and less service to small cities. Also waves of bankruptcies and mergers among the airlines, but safety seems to have continued is slow, unsteady improvement.

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Very nice mashup :+1:

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