As the year dawns, the two biggest financial proposals from Democrats are eliminating college loans and repealing the limit on the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes. If this seems at odds with the traditional leftist rhetoric about helping the poor, that’s because it is.
Twenty-first-century progressivism is a witch’s brew of payouts and tax cuts for the upper-middle class, mixed with bizarre social theories from name-brand universities. The Democratic Party has ignored the farmers, factory workers, miners, and other laborers who once numbered among its most stalwart supporters.
Progressivism — these days best described as leftism — is a luxury good targeted at those who can afford it: college-educated urban and suburban voters. Joe Biden and other Democrats old enough to remember Franklin Roosevelt still talk as though they lead the coalition he built, but increasingly cater to a constituency that bears no resemblance to the working men and women who built the Democratic Party of the last century. Leftist virtue-signaling and academic postmodernism are in — jobs, family, and community are out.
Top-Down Fake Socialism
At first glance, the alignment between Wall Street and Occupy Wall Street makes no sense. But as Alex Yablon wrote for Business Insider last month, they are increasingly aligned on a host of issues. One of these is the belief that the federal government may spend massive sums of money with no adverse consequences.
Among the radicals, this wish-fulfillment takes the form of a heterodox economic idea known as Modern Monetary Theory. While most economists agree that printing more money always leads to inflation, MMT enthusiasts hold that it can be controlled by taxation. They claim a government that borrows in its own currency (like the United States) can spend as much as it wants with no ill effect. If, after full employment is achieved by this spending, inflation begins to occur, the government can fix it by taxing the rich.
If you’re a leftist, it sounds like a win-win: spend as much as you want and if there is a problem, just stick it to the wealthy. What a system: Free money! No comeuppance! If only it were possible.
In truth, it is a utopian theory made to fit the desired result. Limitless deficit spending can only work if the dollar is the world’s reserve currency — and it would not be for long if we started printing limitless numbers of them. America has gotten away with deficit spending for as long as it has only because the other major money-printing nations of the world are either just as bad or worse. If it became clear that we were purposely devaluing our currency, the game would be over, just as it always has been for spendthrift nations.
Modern Monetary Theory makes for an easy way to paper over the consequences of big-spending actions, but why would Wall Streeters buy into this prosperity gospel for communists? Perhaps the amount of wealth pouring into Wall Street financial firms seems so limitless that MMT starts to make sense after a while.
The more likely explanation, however, is financiers don’t genuinely believe in MMT so much as they believe in being highly leveraged and letting someone else pick up the check when things fall apart. That fits Wall Street’s pattern of behavior a lot better than suddenly abandoning mainstream economic theories.
As it does for the radicals, MMT presents a pseudo-economic way to justify doing what they want to do anyway. The only difference is that while some of the socialists honestly believe the bill will never come due, Wall Street knows it will — they just think someone else will pay it.
Get Woke, Go Broke?
Meanwhile, the social agendas of leftist protesters and corporate executives are also curiously aligned. Again, the mismatch is between one group that desperately wants to believe it is true and another who cynically promotes a bad idea, knowing that their wealth and status will insulate them from the fallout of the societal explosion.
All of the weird ideas that now fascinate left-wing cultural influencers have been around for years, contained within the seemingly inconsequential environment of elite colleges and universities. As Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay explained in their recent book, “Cynical Theories,” the thought experiments of postmodernism mutated into the new dogmas of critical race theory, queer theory, post-colonial theory, and a legion of others.
That contagion then leaped from one host to another, moving from the academy to the activists. These super-spreaders shaped general opinion, especially through schools, and tried to take the virus mainstream.
This has become the culture war of our time, but the establishment has thrown in with the counterculture in attacking the system to which they owe their success. It’s not a new phenomenon.
Charles Murray observed a similar conundrum in his 2012 book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” He catalogs the growing divide between the social habits of the upper and lower classes of white people, noting that where once rates of intact families, employment, and church attendance were similar across the social spectrum, vast differences now appear.
The problem is not just that poor people are increasingly unwed, unchurched, and unemployed. It’s also that those who are more successful refuse to encourage any other behavior, and even go out of their way to say that there is nothing wrong with the decay in social mores.
Thanks to the approval of leftist opinions in high places, these trends are moving up the social ladder into the middle class. At the same time, upper-class people maintain their status through the old-fashioned virtue of hard work and the maintenance of stable families. They call it tolerance of different lifestyles, and feel incredibly good about themselves for not being “judgy.”
If it is tolerance, it is a malignant tolerance. This phenomenon of, in Murray’s words, refusing to “preach what they practice” is corrosive and dishonest. It is echoed in the current phase of executives mouthing anti-capitalist slogans while living on the success of that very system.
A Coalition of the Woke and the Wealthy
So are they oblivious, or just cynical? We decry the hypocrite who preaches virtue but practices a secret vice. What, then, should we say about the mirror image of that: the person who lives virtuously but calls vice and virtue equals?
The educated and the rich know the secret to successful lives and prosperous societies, yet they go out of their way to deny those values to anyone who will listen. Whether society is shaped by Enlightenment values or postmodern nonsense ultimately does not matter to those at the top, who expect to maintain their status regardless.
To the rest of us, the embrace of woke dogmas and the dissolution of traditional virtue is revolutionary and destructive. The values that built America and made it a success were at once liberal and traditional, a combination that reinforced the people against the temptations of tyranny and vice.
The new Democrat coalition of woke and wealth find it fashionable to discard this time-tested system. Those at the top will probably survive the change, but for average Americans, it is an act of self-destruction that most cannot afford.