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Populists v Plutocrats

Written By: - Date published: 8:15 pm, November 4th, 2013 - 12 comments
Categories: community democracy, local government, political alternatives, socialism, us politics - Tags:

There’s an interesting article in today’s DomPost headlined “Delight and horror at rise of ‘comrade'”. It details how Democrat Bill de Blasio is almost 40 points clear of his Republican rival in the race for Mayor of New York City. Bill de Blasio is no Third Way Democrat – the article starts:

His parents were investigated for communist sympathies. An anti-apartheid poster hangs on his kitchen wall. His wife is black and a former lesbian. He loves Europe’s social democrats, admires Latin American liberation theology and is poised to confound the conservative trend in US politics by sweeping to an improbable triumph as the next Mayor of New York in this week’s elections.

I can’t link to the article, it’s not on the Stuff website, perhaps because it is sourced from the Sunday Times and so will be behind a Murdoch paywall. But this article titled “Plutocrats vs Populists” by Chrystia Freeland in today’s New York Times is worth a read as she makes some interesting points. Here’s a few tasters:

The limits of plutocratic politics, at both ends of the ideological spectrum, are being tested. That’s a surprise.

Business leaders of the postwar era were individually weaker but collectively more effective; C.E.O. salaries were relatively lower, but the voice of business in the national conversation was much more potent, perhaps in part because it was less exclusively self-interested.

Surging income inequality doesn’t create just an economic divide. The gap is cultural and social, too. Plutocrats inhabit a different world from everyone else, with different schools, different means of travel, different food, even different life expectancies. The technocratic solutions to public-policy problems they deliver from those Olympian heights arrive in a wrapper of remote benevolence. Plutocrats are no more likely to send their own children to the charter schools they champion than they are to need the malaria cures they support.

People might not mind that if the political economy were delivering for society as a whole. But it is not: wages for 70 percent of the work force have stagnated, unemployment is high and many people with jobs feel insecure about them and about their retirement.

Plutocrats, as well as the rest of us, need to rise to this larger challenge, to find solutions that work on the global scale at which business already operates. The other task is to fully engage in retail, bottom-up politics — not just to sell those carefully thought-through, data-based technocratic solutions but to figure out what they should be in the first place.

Mr. de Blasio will be the next mayor of New York because he built a constituency among those who are losing out and those who sympathize with them. Politics in the winner-take-all economy don’t have to be extremist and nasty, but they have to grow out of, and speak for, the 99 percent. The pop-up political movements that come so naturally to the plutocrats won’t be enough.

Food for thought indeed. It strikes me that the most important poll conducted in New Zealand in the last few months was by far the largest in sample size, even though many decried its extent. The local body elections in October saw identifiably Labour mayors elected in Auckland, Rotorua and Christchurch, and a Green mayor in Wellington. Masterton’s  new mayor Lyn Middleton  told us in the DomPost last week that she was currently reading Max Rashbrooke’s “The Crisis of Inequality” and would have Helen Clark as one of her  dinner guests.

It may well be that the 99 percent in New Zealand as well do want politicians that grow out of and sympathise with them – in Chrystia Freeland’s words, who provide “retail, bottom-up politics.” It’s about engaging, listening, identifying the issues where they are felt the keenest and devising solutions that are inclusive. Liberation.

Perhaps Bill de Blasio is the harbinger of a return to social values at the local level. The last word goes to him:

He denies that he has ever been a card-carrying Marxist but last week he told New York magazine: “My grounding in progressive movements is pretty solid and it continues to be a way I think about the world. I don’t think there’s any question about where I come from ideologically.”

To quote Yogi Berra, the great Yankees catcher: “Whould’a thunk it?”


12 comments on “Populists v Plutocrats”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    IMO Karol’s post should be the lead at the moment, not local politics in NY.

  2. North 2

    Fascinating. And warming. Away with the Greedies !

  3. Mike Smith 3

    You’re right and I see it’s been fixed. My post isn’t just about local politics in NY though.

    • karol 3.1

      Mike, I think your post is very important and is relevant here.

      I do hope you are right and there is a shift towards stronger social values happening.

    • Morrissey 3.2

      You need to do some serious research before you start tapping out encomia for these Democratic Party machine creatures, Mike.

  4. QoT 4

    “A former lesbian”? Sigh. Media really don’t know how to deal with anything but the most basic concepts of sexuality.

  5. vto 5

    This fulla in Noo York would appear to be the equivalent of what we are seeing in NZ with the tide rapidly running out on the old thinking.

    Don Brash, Jeff Key (ha ha), Roger Douglas, Bill English, the lot of them are already useless. The things they spout resonate with fewer and fewer people each and every day. Nobody believes them anymore. They are being sucked out to sea with the receding tide… clutching at mud crabs and covered in barnacles, not even the pipis dare open their shells to them…

    They may have had a point some long time ago but they failed to think further than the first thought and so ended up with pretty much dead-end policies. If they had had more wisdom they may have foreseen their shortcomings and moved to embrace more than just those first thoughts.

    But nup – no wisdom. Not in the true sense. So they fail. Not that they would even recognise such failure – not them. They are the best and brightest, they went to the best schools, everyone always told them so, it must be true.

    So the next questions must be – where are we going then? How do we know it will work out? Will it go to a different extreme? When will interest finally be outlawed in the west?

  6. alwyn 6

    I don’t think you got this quite right.
    If New Zealand, in Auckland, had followed the NY line we wouldn’t be talking about Len Brown as mayor of Auckland.
    Instead of that silly old fool we would be celebrating the election of John Minto, who would have won in a landslide.

  7. fambo 7

    Not criticising the informative blog at all, but Masterton’s new mayor is called Lyn Paterson. It would be hard to tell if Lyn was pro National or pro Labour without her coming out and stating the fact herself. The Wairarapa has traditionally chosen its mayors based more on local identity politics than political leanings. For instance, Carterton had Georgina Beyer who was later a Labour MP and currently has Ron Mark is an ex NZ First MP. That said, it tends to be fairly conservative these days with plenty of neo-conservative arrivals over the past few years, but not as conservative as Tararua district further north which is old school conservative.

  8. Morrissey 8

    He has anti-apartheid poster on his wall? That’s strange, since he’s a supporter of the most vicious apartheid regime in history….

    Or was he just against the comparatively benign South African version?

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