Distinguishing social democracy

Distinguishing social democracy:

Under left-liberal (as opposed to soc dem) regimes, organized labor does not participate in mid- to longer-range socio-economic planning. However, left think tanks can contribute mid- to long-range planning analyses.

Conversely, there are a variety of ways in which business leaders contribute to public policy formation, because business (public and private, but not cooperative) is regarded by the lib-left govt as the engine of growth.

This exclusion of cooperatives from the field of perceived contributors to growth indicates that lib-left govts may also be distinguished from social democratic govts by an assumption that growth is a product of “efficient” social-hierarchy-inflating organizational forms.

In lib-left regimes, labor views its role, and the liberal government views labor’s role as (often obstructive) ballast to economic growth initiatives that are seen as the natural concern of business. That’s labor’s negative role. It’s not a leadership role.

Labor’s positive role in capitalist democracy thus largely devolves to delivering votes to the left-liberal govt, because although the lib-left does not regard labor as a central social or economic policy resource, as opposed to conservative govts the lib-left govt will not actively try to break organized labor and it may implement those modest proposals of labor that do not impede the business-driven growth planning.

Hence, with a range of ruling (capitalist) political perspectives that always preemptively block information from labor (except what little leaks obliquely through the market), we repeatedly sink into crisis cycles–crisis of profit begets > capital deregulation and overmobilization, working class overregulation, demobilization, and dispossession beget > speculative bubbles/primitive accumulation beget > underconsumption crisis begets > further primitive accumulation, repeat. We fixate on the speculative bubbles moment in the midst of all this autistic failure, hoard wealth, and laud ourselves endlessly for being such top-notch managers and philanthropistes.

This is why for Rawlsianism to work, socialist politics and the communist horizon must be more highly valued, and even defended– by liberals.
As far as I know, this seeming impossibility has only been (temporarily) accomplished in Scandinavia and Minnesota. (While Latin America leftists tried to forge a left-lib coalition from scratch, the US destroyed this effort and enforced conservative rule in Latin America, see Greg Grandin.)

In “Right-wing Rawlsianism: A Critique” (forthcoming in Journal of Political Philosophy) Samuel Arnold argues that if liberals agree that agency is the essence of justice, then liberals have to pick which side they are on–because economic democracy fosters more agency than Trickledown provides.

Arnold’s is a clever detonation of a bridge from liberalism to conservatism, using some of the bridge-builders’ own ideal theory tools. (Particularly with respect to Rawls’ difference principle: A liberal justice-maximizing directive to choose the political-economic system that maximizes the least-advantaged group’s expectations for an index of primary goods that include income and wealth, but also status (qua capacity for agency in the workplace and self-respect in society).)

Upon deriving the optimal realization of liberal justice (agency) in workplace democracy, Arnold concludes (p. 32),

Milquetoast liberal egalitarianism is unstable: liberal egalitarianism must move far to the left in order to avoid being jerked far to the right.”

We need to keep heaping on the demonstrations that economic democracy fosters more agency than GDP/GNP tumescence.

For one example, insofar as political-economic systems can be said to have intentions, how plausible is it that capitalism does not intend to support social pathologies (Arnold, p.29)? Studies of primitive accumulation, the WEB DuBois tradition, socialist feminists, Harvey et al have a lot to say about how capitalism “intends to” (is built and maintained to) and does depend upon and support social pathologies. This approach apprehends the connection between economic (eg. workplace) tyranny and racism, sexism, colonialism, etc., for a powerpunch assertion that inequality is both fundamental to capitalism (even if it is shifted around across some social groups, over time and space) and fatally (from the perspective of justice) undermines agency (power to).

…& on the matter of historical-materialism’s putative incapacity to deal with difference (from a postmodern POV), from Arnold (p. 29):

Patriarchy, discrimination against the weak or the different, pressure to conform, and countless other social practices that prevent people from realizing their full agential potential: how long can these pathologies withstand the countervailing winds of a social democracy, with its democratic workplaces, its flattened division of labor, its robustly egalitarian public institutions?”

Primitive Accumulation, Negative Externalities and Growth

Over the years, Stefano Bartolini has modeled economic growth, showing that whereas most models of economic growth feature accumulation and technical progress as engines of growth, a third engine is needed to ensure self-perpetuating economic growth. History, the theory of Polanyi & Hirsch, and Bartolini’s models suggest that third engine is 2 negative externalities that combine to drive growth: 1) positional externalities, and 2) externalities that reduce social and natural capital.

Pagano 1999 defined a positional good: consumption by an individual of a positive amount of a positional good involves the consumption of an equal negative amount by someone else. Power and status are fundamental positional goods; others include education and housing.  The positional goods/services/externalities theoretical tradition extends from Veblen 1899/1934 and Hirsh 1976. In addition to Bartolini, Robert H. Frank (“Falling Behind”) has continued to explore this tradition as well as Bowles and Park 2002, Schor 1998, and Corneo and Jeanne 2001.

“Industrial revolutions are the paradigmatic example of this (Growth as Substitution) mechanism: they are the most striking processes of labor supply and accumulation increase because they are the most striking processes of social and environmental devastation recorded by economic history” (Stefano Bartolini, “Beyond Accumulation and Technical Progress: Negative Externalities as an Engine of Economic Growth.” 2003: 9).

Williamson 1995, Krugman 1995, and Bartolini et al have shown that the transition to an industrial economy has always been associated with explosive growth in the labor force participation rate.

Such growth-propelling negative externalities are discussed within the Marxist tradition as primitive accumulation. To further explore: The relationship between primitive accumulation and other capitalist strategies of promoting profit-restoring growth to the point of increasing contradiction / social and environmental irrationality.

Bartolini’s growth-model can better explain the failure of conservative economics’ predicted relationship between growth and happiness (Bartolini 2003). Inter alia, political scientist Lane 2000 shows that American growth is not associated with increased happiness.

Capitalism Takes Food from the Poor

Have you ever wondered how it is that capitalism causes malnourishment? Here’s one way.

“The global rush to buy farmland continues, and international investors are focusing on the poorest countries with weak land-rights security…Investor interest in land was triggered by the 2007-08 spike in food prices, and the long-term trends that drive deals are rising commodity prices, population growth, growing consumption and demand for biofuels and timber…The deals in the database amount to 83.2 million hectares (205.6 million acres) of land in developing countries…Most of the investors are private companies, accounting for 442 projects covering 30.3 million hectares, followed by state- owned companies with 172 projects and 11.5 million hectares, based on the data. Investment funds were behind 32 projects covering 3.3 million hectares….

 Governments often sell land already in use by smallholder farmers, according to the (research) group. About 45 percent of deals target cropland or crop-vegetation mosaics, where investors are competing for land with local farming communities, the group reported. ‘Investors are targeting countries with weak land tenure security, although they try to look for countries that at the same time offer relatively high levels of investor protection,’ the Land Matrix group said.”

Look at the Landportal Landmatrix data on capitalism incentivizing investors to steal arable land from the poor, that the moneyed might speculate on the dispossessed’s ensuing starvation.

The How & Why of Privatization Touts

At the Ivies, the students are instructed by only the most high-status, most fail-tastic privatization marketeers (AKA conservative economists) that only the best-funded gentlemen’s networks can float.

How privatization and class warfare is sold to future US leadership: with lies, covering obscene kleptocracy and its further socialized costs.

Note: Larry Summers may have long since lost his royal Harvard throne, but not just because of his sexism (the putative cause) and racist ecological imperialism (There’s that too.), or even just being an evil overlord of the rampant social, economic and environmental mega-destruction that is neoliberalism. Rather, his Harvard departure is likely due to this: Summers decided to use Harvard funds to pay the costs (The US Justice Department fined Shleifer $26.5 million) of Andrei Shleifer’s massive kleptocratic privatization profiteering in post-communist Russia.

Yee-ha! Good ole fancy boys! Creme de la…uh… I’m guessing Summers himself has enjoyed many, many such back-scratching indulgences over the years, and it’s all par for the course for that highly-oiled and polished ruling mafioso. What was that? Did someone mention Goldman Sachs owns the Fed and the US government? You don’t say. Now what were we talking about? Berlusconi?

Harvard University: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.

Mazzucato’s The entrepreneurial state

Mazzucato’s “The Entrepreneurial State,” in which Mazzucato questions the neoliberal orthodoxy on public spending–that the state must be cut back to make room for entrepreneurship and innovation, to prevent the public sector ‘crowding out’ the private sector. Mazzucato argues that the neoliberal policy program draws on a belief that the private sector is dynamic, innovative and competitive, in contrast to a presumably sluggish and bureaucratic public sector.

The Entrepreneurial State challenges the “minimalist view” of economic policy. It finds that successful economies result from government doing more than just creating the right conditions for growth.

Instead, government has a key role to play in developing new technologies whose potential is not yet understood by the business community. State-funded organisations can be nimble and innovative, transforming economies forever — the algorithm behind Google was funded by a public sector National Science Foundation grant.

 This pamphlet forces the debate to go beyond the role of the state in stimulating demand, or crudely ‘picking winners’ in industrial policy. Instead, it argues for a proactive, entrepreneurial state: a state that is able to take risks and harness the best of the private sector. It imagines the state as a catalyst, sparking the initial reaction that will cause innovation to spread.

–From the abstract

“The Entrepreneurial State” sounds super Peter Evans-derivative (Hello? “Embedded Autonomy” isn’t that old, people). It sounds a little dumber than Evans, actually, since it seems, from the abstract, not to include Evan’s key observation that when a state fosters innovation, capital, being capital, will turn around and try to destroy the conditions of innovation, the state.

I think the argument has to advance. The neoliberal myth about private innovation/public stagnation is designed not to promote minimalist economic policy. There’s no evidence for that. Rather, it’s designed to promote primitive accumulation.

Perry Anderson theses on English capitalism & ideology

Perry Anderson. 1992. English Questions. NY: Verso.

Main themes distilled from (Couldn’t quickly find the citation for the review.) this collection of Anderson essays written over a quarter century:

1) The lame first stab: England had the first, most mediated and least pure bourgeois revolution of any major European country (17).

2) First come, serfdom preserved: England experienced the first industrial revolution, in a period of counter-revolutionary war, producing the earliest proletariat when socialist theory was least formed and available, and an industrial bourgeoisie polarized from the start towards the aristocracy (20).

3) Imperial identity: By the end of the 19th century, Britain had seized the largest empire in history, one qualitatively distinct from all its rivals, which saturated and set British society in a mould it has retained to this day (23).

4) The autistic island: Alone of major European nations (one presumes this means England, Germany and France), England emerged undefeated and unoccupied from two world wars, its social structure untouched by external shocks or discontinuities (27).


  • Insofar as Britain had a bourgeois revolution at all, it was both premature and incomplete.
  • The industrial bourgeoisie never did wrest hegemony from the aristocracy and the great London bankers and financiers.
  • Socialism was never on the agenda in Britain.
  • The working class and its main political expression, the Labour Party, have never represented an alternative to anything or anybody. 
  • State and society in Britain need to be modernized. But the State has functioned as an active bulwark against modernization. Thatcherism (conservatism, neoliberalism), though pledged to modernization, has in fact accomplished nothing of the sort.

Desai (1994) elaborates on this: Because England had no revolution, no full-throttle clashes between contesting classes, its people generally have a stunted sociological imagination. Broadly, they have a hard time seeing or thinking about society. Anglos are historically ingrained with a radical individualist approach. Therefore, according to Anderson, they have a stunted intellectual tradition, where intellectualism hinges on social engagement.

The charge doesn’t sound very diplomatic. But it has the virtue of jibing with the general consensus in the social sciences about how the widespread recognition of society unfolds under particular historical circumstances; and it does contribute to an explanation for the conservative world-leadership attracted to and emanating from the UK, and the robustness of conservatism in the Anglosphere (as discussed in relation to the UK in Desai).

EP Thompson. 1965. “The Peculiarities of the English.” Thompson did not like Anderson’s interpretation of (or conclusions from) English history. He felt that it did not sufficiently recognize that capitalism has agrarian roots in England. From a review by D. McNally:

 “In attacking Anderson and Nairn (of the New Left Review), Thompson did not consider that he was simply correcting erroneous interpretations of history. He saw himself as defending the practice of historical materialism against what he saw as an empty formalism which characterised too much Marxist analysis. ‘Minds which thirst for a sturdy platonism very soon become impatient with actual history’, he suggested. A decade later, his defence of ‘actual history’ against ‘platonic Marxism’ took the form of a no holds barred attack on the structuralist Marxism of Louis Althusser.”

…I don’t know. I fail to see how Anderson’s and Thompson’s substantive views clash. Every Marxist since Marx has well understood the agrarian roots of capitalism in Britain. How does Anderson’s description of exceptional English development and ideology preclude that? I can easily see both the link to the general development of capital (recall Marx on primitive accumulation), and the comparative, historical specificity in Anderson’s thesis. Is this a forest for the trees problem? An historian-as-precious diva problem? Historical detail (eg. the myriad resistances of the English peasantry) is counterproductive if it makes you lose sight of (rather than adequately refute) the proportion of a comparative argument.

As an outsider, a non-Anglo, a long way and a long time later, this strikes me as possibly yet another case of emotionally-retarded leftist competitive vanguardism. All I can see is the alpha elephant seal emotion. (I note this because I really don’t want anything like this contest to consume my emotional life ever. Although, it did result in publication. Dignity be damned; there’s always the audience to consider: “Look mommy! Watch the big blubbering Leftists fight!”)

However, I suspect the real lesson here is that English Marxists did not like to have such a bleak mirror held up to them, because the English are longtime imperialists and hegemonists, and they just have enormous national pride. I suspect the Thompsonian charge that Anderson was not historical is more sophistry barely shielding wounded national-exceptionalist pride or wounded intellectual pride  (perhaps packaged sentimentally in a defense of the national working class) than a valid critique…But perhaps I am being Anglophobic and uncharitable. I will have to investigate further. I’m starting to read Henry Heller’s The Birth of Capitalism, so I will return to this post if that book prompts me to alter my perspective.

I am interested in following up on another critique of Anderson: That he preferred and approved of anti-Marxist history and helped establish/elaborate the tradition of Marxists denouncing Marxists. More English nationalist Marxist sour grapes? Or more jealous, precious prima donna vanguardism?

Also, what is Anderson’s conception of modernization?

Why do I care? Because I am comparing Anglo Fabianism and Keynes to the Scandinavian social democratic intellectual and political tradition and Meidner, in order to clarify what is social democracy. The British v. Swedish feudal transition and revolutionary origins of modern politics certainly differ significantly, and if Anderson’s account is valid enough, affirm my hypothesis.