Friday, June 03, 2016

Yves Smith On the Perfidy of Hillary Clinton. Echidne Reacts.

Yves Smith, famous for running the Naked Capitalism site, does not care for Hillary Clinton, as she most forcefully writes on Politico.  Scott Lemieux, on Lawyers, Guns and Money, has a funny response to Yves.  That's where I found the link to Yves' Politico piece.

You should read both pieces, because my post won't address most of the meat (some rotting, some stinking, some still good to eat) (1) in Yves' column, and Scott does respond to some of them, though not all.

But before I write about what I really want to write about, let me make clear that I share with Yves her concern that the American working class, including the white working class, has been treated like the ugly step-sisters in the Cinderella (2) fairy tale:

The glass slipper of approval and of financial help never fits their large and horny feet, but slips beautifully on the tiny and well pedicured feet of the rich.   The fairy godmother of the Democratic Party waves her magical wand to pretend-help only the poor in other countries (through trade agreements and outsourcing) while blue-collar jobs in the United States slowly disappear down a sink hole, leaving behind dying factory towns where people have nothing to produce except drugs, divorces and despair.

Even the media coverage of the concerns of the working classes reflects this trend:  News about labor are disappearing, labor journalists lose their jobs,  unions are dying, and that death is treated with a booming silence by most journalists.  The public radio stations have programs covering the financial markets but not the labor markets.

This coverage has only slightly changed with the alarming news that poor whites might be dying earlier than in the past, a possible trend which must have strong economic causes.(3)

So, yes, I'm all for a correction in the course of that ship called the Democratic Party.  But the correction we need is not to drive it into an iceberg, and that's what Yves indirectly supports when she muses about how her informed readers are going to vote for Trump.

Now to what this post is all about:   

First, the odd use of opinion samples in Yves' opinion piece.  She begins by telling us that her readers are very informed:

The highly educated, high-income, finance-literate readers of my website, Naked Capitalism, don’t just overwhelmingly favor Bernie Sanders. They also say “Hell no!” to Hillary Clinton to the degree that many say they would even vote for Donald Trump over her.
And they don’t come by these views casually. Their conclusions are the result of careful study of her record and her policy proposals. They believe the country can no longer endure the status quo that Clinton represents—one of crushing inequality, and an economy that is literally killing off the less fortunate—and any change will be better. One reader writes:

“If Clinton is the nominee 9 out of 10 friends I polled will [do one of three things]:
A. Not vote for president in November.
B. Vote for Trump.
C. Write in Bernie as a protest vote.
"We are all fifty-somethings with money and college educations. Oh, and we are all registered Democrats.”
Or as another reader puts it:
“I don’t want to vote for Trump. I want to vote for Bernie. But I have reached the point where I feel like voting for Trump against Clinton would be doing my patriotic duty. … If the only way to escape a trap is to gnaw off my leg, I’d like to think I’d have the guts to do it.”

So Yves' readers are rich people who are literate about finance?  And we need to hear what this group thinks of Hillary for what reason?  At the end of her piece Yves tells us:

If my readers are representative, Clinton and the Democratic Party are about to have a long-overdue day of reckoning.

But those readers are not representative of the Democratic voters!  She said so herself at the beginning:  They are richer, more educated, and later in the piece we also learn that they are disproportionately more educated,  older and male:

Who does Naked Capitalism represent? The site, which I describe as “fearless commentary on finance, economics, politics and power,” receives 1.3 million to 1.5 million page views a month and has amassed approximately 80 million readers since its launch in 2006. Its readership is disproportionately graduate school-educated, older, male and high income. Despite the overall predominance of male readers, many of the fiercest critics of Clinton in the commentariat are women, with handles like HotFlash, Katniss Everdeen, Martha r, Portia, Bev and Pat.
Her case has fallen apart, utterly apart.

First, her readers are not representative of those who vote for Democrats in the US, being richer, older and more male.  Second, she argues that we should listen to her readers' opinions because they are more educated, but ends with slightly suggesting that they are also representative of all Democratic voters.  Third, she acknowledges that most of her readers are men, but then assigns a lot of weight for the opinions of her fewer female readers, even writing down the Internet handles of six such individuals.

Then to the bits that annoyed me most about that:

I don't care if someone had surveyed ten friends in the meat-space about their opinions.  That's not a random sample.  It's a convenience sample, and as people tend to be friends with like-minded people, the results are just echoes inside the same barrel of opinions.  They tell us nothing about how most Democratic voters would choose in November.

And this:

Or as another reader puts it:
“I don’t want to vote for Trump. I want to vote for Bernie. But I have reached the point where I feel like voting for Trump against Clinton would be doing my patriotic duty. … If the only way to escape a trap is to gnaw off my leg, I’d like to think I’d have the guts to do it.”
As Scott notes:

Um, your “high income friends” who would rather see Trump become president than Clinton are willing to have other people get their metaphorical legs gnawed off. For themselves, they won’t have their health care taken away or be affected by food stamps getting slashed and they/their wives and/or mistresses and/or daughters won’t have any problem obtaining safe abortions, and they’ll get a nice fat tax cut out of the deal. They’re willing to sacrifice nothing. Oddly, the people upon whom the contradictions will be actually heightened tend to find this kind of logic less persuasive. 

I agree.  It's like finding Japanese beetles in your roses and deciding that nuking the neighborhood is the best way to go, never mind the neighbors.  This is one of the fairly few cases where I believe that telling people to see their own privilege would raise the level of the debate.

But that Yves thought those quotes would strengthen her case also shows the great dangers of living inside political Internet bubbles.  One gets used to opinions which the insiders see as valid, without realizing how inane they look to many outsiders.

Second, and finally,  because this is a women's rights blog, let me spend a few moments on what Yves writes about feminism and other "identity politics" in her Politico piece:

The Sanders supporters I interact with also reject Hillary’s trickle-down feminism as a substitute for economic and social justice. Clinton is correct when she points out that there is a glass-ceiling issue for women. There are fewer female CEOs, billionaires and senators. Women in the elite don’t have it as good as men. But pray tell, what is having more women, or Hispanics or blacks, in top roles going to do for nurses and hospital orderlies, or the minority group members disproportionately represented in low-wage jobs like part-time fast food workers? Class mobility has become close to nonexistent in America. If you are born in one of the lower-income cohorts, you are almost certain to stay there.
A fascinating quote.  To put it into its correct perspective, please read this post I wrote in 2012 when Yves defended the anti-war views of Ron Paul.  I cover the concept of identity politics in that post and Yves' views on it.

And it is identity politics that she is really attacking in that quote, too, while assuming that the Democrats can't both chew gum and walk.  One goal in the platform must go, so it should be gender and race concerns, especially the idea of seeding the top rungs of the power ladders with women and/or minorities.  Perhaps even the idea of affirmative action?  Rules to stop labor market discrimination against women and/or minorities?

Yet Yves also makes points I agree with, such as the one I belabored at some length above, on how the Democratic Party has ignored the needs of the American working class individuals, and I also agree that class mobility in this country has become weak.(4)

I also like her use of "trickle-down feminism."   I imagine lots of women in expensive stilettos peeing on the rest of us!  She manages to capture the prevalent criticism of earlier waves of feminism as mostly benefiting women who were already fairly high up on various career ladders.

A lot of that criticism is fair, though some of it is not.  For example, the so-called First Wave of feminism won voting rights for all women and early feminists of the nineteenth century were very concerned about the lot of working class women, with fierce debates about gender-protectionism, the role of unionization for women and so on.

At the same time, earlier waves of feminism have not been free of racism, classism,  the discomfort with gays and Lesbians and so on.  Each succeeding wave does a little bit better in those respects, I hope.

But to borrow the "trickle-down" term from supply side economics is indeed clever!  Of course it  ignores the possibility that women of all ethnic and racial groups as well as Hispanic and black men might have different life experiences and so might end up pushing different policies, once they reach the top rungs of the political power ladders.(5) 

It also ignores the power of role models in changing societal stereotypes.  Those changes can trickle down, too.

Still, it's the either-or assumption of that quote that bothers me the most.  I don't believe that policies based on nothing but income would necessarily be the rising tide that lifts all boats.  I strongly support policy changes which would lead to less income inequality in this country, yessir.  But we have to keep an eagle's eye on every one of those policies, to see if it actually does lift all boats.

To give you an example from our recent history, consider the Obama stimulus proposals.  Here's one example:

Even before President Obama entered the White House, he and his allies successfully used the allure of “shovel ready” infrastructure projects to help sell his $787 billion stimulus legislation to a resistant Congress and a wary public.
“I think we can get a lot of work done fast,” Mr. Obama, then the president-elect, said in December 2008, after meeting with governors. “All of them have projects that are shovel ready, that are going to require us to get the money out the door.”

Those infrastructure projects were a great idea from the point of view of employing more working class people who were suffering from intense unemployment at the time, right?

But of course shovels are not what most women's jobs use.  One can argue that such projects were needed at the time of greater male unemployment, but when women's unemployment later rose, due to the shrinking of the public sector jobs in education and health care, I, at least, didn't read about bed-pan-ready projects for stimulus purposes.


(1)  The stinking and rotting reference is about the way Yves attributes almost anything Bill Clinton's 1990s government did or the Democratic politicians did or the Republican politicians stopped from getting done to Hillary Clinton.  She has become the metaphor for her whole party, her husband and, in the eyes of many, for all uppity women.  The "still good to eat" part refers to criticism of her own acts which I find valid.

(2)  The Aschenputtel version at Wikipedia describes how the ugly steps-sisters cut off their toes to fit in the slipper and so on.

(3)  It's still too early to tell what might drive the finding that the US overall mortality rate could now be rising, but earlier research suggests that the mortality rates of poor whites have risen, and especially the mortality rates of poor white women.  More from Andrew Gelman on the death rates of middle-aged white women.

(4)  Though sometimes I wonder if using that argument without further explanations isn't just playing the game of the conservatives.  Would an extremely hierarchical system be better if the ones on top changed every few generations in their genetics, say?  Is it enough to tell people that you, too, might some day be the president if that was actually true?

Note that I am NOT defending the system where social class memberships are ossified, but asking for a system where the hierarchy is less pronounced, where people in power get there more often because of merit and where there are good ways of pulling them back down if they misbehave.  Something along the lines of the Nordic systems.

(5)  This doesn't have to happen, as Margaret Thatcher or Clarence Thomas demonstrates. On the other hand, even a Republican like Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve in the US Supreme Court, sometimes voted in disagreement with her conservative brothers, and to me the reason had something to do with her being female:

In opposition to the Republican call to reverse the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights, O’Connor provided the vote needed to uphold the court’s earlier decision.
My examples are from the conservative edge of the political spectrum, and because of that they are very likely to vastly underestimate the beneficial impact of more women and/or minorities in the positions of real power.