Why there has been no outlet for anger on the left
Last week, Yves Smith put up a blog post asking "Why is there no political outlet for anger on the left these days?" The purpose of my post will be to explain why an actual outlet for anger on the left is something that could only have been developed in the last decade. Then, I will sketch out how we can utilize our understanding of this to effectively communicate with people about MMT.
The main reason that the American left was not able to successfully oppose the neo-liberal assault of the 80s and 90s, is because racism prevented it.
One of the key elements of a genuine leftist politics is the idea of a commonwealth or a collective good. People will not accept the idea of a collective good at the nation-state level if they feel that not everyone in the nation-state is part of the same community.
And, that is exactly what happened in the United States after the relative triumph of the civil rights era, post 1968. Rick Perlstein has published on the subject of declining support for the New Deal during the end of the 1960s. His work was based in part on his review of correspondence from Chicago area political figures. While there are still people who reject the idea that people with a different skin color are Americans and could participate as equals in a commonwealth, they are a declining group in the United States. As a Californian, I find it particularly hilarious when people like Pat Buchanan try to claim that only white people built America. This is because in California a significant chunk of the economy was built on the backs of Mexican and Chinese labor before California was even a part of the USA. California would today have a much larger Chinese American population if not for the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the systematic ethnic cleansing conducted during the end of the 19th century.
Overseas, in Europe, it seems that the socialist/mixed economies of Northern Europe are experiencing their own issues with the idea of a common good, as there is an increasing backlash against non-white residents and citizens.
Returning to the United States, the overwhelming popularity of President Barack Obama during his campaign and after, shows that many people do respond positively to the ideas of a more inclusive America. This is especially true of the younger generation, despite the best efforts of Sarah Palin and the Tea Partiers. It is not a surprise that the Tea Party is heavily middle aged and older. With their constant screams of "Marxist" and "communistic," even the rhetoric of the Tea Parties invokes a Cold War that fewer and fewer Americans find relevant. Now, be that as it may, President Obama has clearly not acted in ways that are beneficial to the majority of Americans, and has, as Correntians have chronicled, failed to rein in the FIRE sector and deliver the real change for which the electorate voted. However, his enduring popularity demonstrates that there is a significant audience for the idea that Americans of all skin colors count as Americans.
What does this have to do with MMT? MMT, as I understand it, posits that a sovereign, fiat currency issuing government cannot run out of money, and is operationally limited only by real resource constraints. Realistically, it means that since the government can purchase any resource it wants on the market, then ultimately government purchasing/spending decisions reflect the desire for shared prosperity and a common good. If the left today can develop a shared orientation around a common American identity, then we will see greater acceptance of the concepts put forth by MMT. Furthermore, it is an effective rhetorical strategy for the left to be able to say that we speak for ALL Americans, that is, everyone who lives within the United States, and that we seek an increase in economic prosperity for everyone who works hard and plays by the rules.
That phrase works nicely to support the idea of a Jobs Guarantee, an idea that I know is popular amongst Correntians. For example, when discussing the Jobs Guarantee, one can say that all we are asking for is that people be given a chance to work hard and support their families, and to do something good for the country. Naturally, there will be some people who will object to the Jobs Guarantee on the basis that some of the federal jobs might go to undocumented immigrants. For legal reasons, naturally, a JG program is going to require the same things that other federal jobs require, namely, a work authorization check. Therefore, it is a non-issue. There will probably be Tea Party types who flip out and demand that we develop new and deeply invasive programs to "guarantee" that "not one illegal immigrant receives one dollar of American money."
The proper response to that is to say that no program can guarantee 100 percent compliance. And, to ask the questioner if he is willing to add significant red tape and delay to the process of getting the American economy back on track. Ask him if he'd rather see the American economy continue to go down the tubes and employment numbers shrink, just to gain a marginally more effective work authorization program. If he says yes (and some people will of course) then you tell him that he just doesn't care about the well being of the American people. Furthermore, when some undocumented workers do end up in the program, as long as they are working hard and paying their taxes, what's his problem? Since there is a job available for everyone who wants one under the JG, it's not like the hypothetical undocumented worker is going to be taking someone's job.
Now some people might say that kind of rhetoric has no place on the left. Well it does, because it is the truth. If someone is willing to bog down a program like the JG just to satisfy his desire to wreck vengeance on Mexicans, then he is objectively working against the best interests of the American commonwealth. We have to call people out on that.
The reason there has been no political outlet on the left is that, until very recently, a strong leftist movement could not have existed in the US because of deeply entrenched racism. But, man people's attitudes have have changed and we now have a genuine opportunity to build a leftist consensus in the United States. Let's make sure that we do it ASAP.