|Though Marshall and Kilgore primarily ascribe the argument I'm making as strictly utilitarian in nature (deflation moves wealth to conservatives, so they like it), my point was more that conservatives believe in a strict social hierarchy in which they are on top, and that deflation serves that end. Conservatives are principled adherents to an aristocratic ordering, and they are not primarily driven by money or wealth but by a desire to preserve and promote a stable society with their own needs protected and serviced and the needs of those in the out groups placed in dependency. Deflation, like tax cuts for the wealthy or busting unions or gutting trial lawyers or breaking net neutrality or preventing universal health care or mobilizing the state for wars of choice or undermining civil liberties for those in the out groups while increasing it for conservatives themselves (see Sarah Palin's notions that her first amendment includes preventing criticism of conservative figures), serves that end well. The economics is in service to the principle, in other words. It's not a dry technical science.
As we redefine the economy, which is what we will have to do in this mini-depression, we are going to have to debate the question of how to use our resources. And what the right wants is to get a bunch of resources for themselves, while making sure that everyone else is placed into some form of dependency. The challenge is to convince progressive elites that this is the basic frame for the debate. Currently, economists tend to self-identify as 'experts' above politics, even Barack Obama argues that we need an administration that makes decisions without partisan bickering in the mix, decisions based on common sense and expertise, begging the question of whose common sense and whose expertise he means. Treasury Secretary designate Tim Geithner, neck deep in the decisions that led to the financial crisis, is going after Sheila Bard, one of the only principled high profile regulators who got it right, for not 'being a team player' when she tried to extract concessions to help homeowners as a condition for bailing out Citigroup.
If economics is a moral question with different competing groups, then the question here is whose team is Geithner on? He would say he's trying to make good policy without regard to ideology, but does that construct make sense? People disagree on what good policy means. Some people think women should focus on child-rearing and the natural family state is a nuclear family, some people think that child-rearing is a community endeavor. These are different ideas, and they have different policy consequences. There is no 'good' or 'bad' here, only value systems. And yes, some people think that poverty is a sign of moral character, and others take a systemic analysis. Their economic frames are not coincidences but reflections of this. Single white people who move to cities are liberal, white couples in suburbs are conservative. In other words, we disagree on lifestyle choices, and when a society has to make choices about how resources are used and institutional arrangements are ordered, there is no escaping from politics. That's how we decide these questions.
Suggesting that someone is not a team player or that they are too ideologically is simply a power play couched in the dishonest frame that we all agree on everything except for pesky and dangerous irritants, who are called everything from 'not team players' to terrorists to extremists to liberals. Note, for instance, how Tim McVeigh or anti-abortion bombers are not really discussed as a terrorists, since their radical anti-government ideology is not particularly threatening to elites, while eco-terrorists that have no measurable impact on anything, or even simply union leaders are regularly compared on television to organized criminals by powerful groups like the US Chamber of Commerce.
How do conservatives get away with this? How do their frame their choices as dominant non-ideological and done in the name of American progress, while liberal arguments that have consistently been proven prescient over such public disasters like Iraq or financial deregulation are regularly sidelined as ideologues? It's a difficult question, and there are many component pieces. But essentially it has to do with how the story of America is controlled by elites that, whether Democratic or Republicans, organize their thoughts around legitimizing their own power.
One fundamental human need is to justify your own actions with meaning. It's nearly as powerful as hunger, thirst, sex, or breathing, and religions have been with us for thousands of years. Consider how wealthy and powerful people explain to themselves why they are wealthy and powerful. No one ever writes a story in Forbes listing the 50 luckiest CEOs. Wealthy people tell themselves they work hard, they are smarter and more deserving, they take risks, and their positions are justified by their courageous ability to seize opportunities others were too meek or stupid to see. Telling an effective story to yourself is a way of justifying follow-on actions. "I am successful because I studied hard in law school and lawyers do valuable work" provides the meaning that allows for confident assertions that our legal system is just and that defending large corporate law firms is useful work, whereas "I am successful because I was not the child of a drug addicted teenage mother" does not. Both are true, controlling the context by which lawyers justify their own actions controls to a large extent what avenues of law they choose to pursue and develop.
The story of America told in post-war 20th century textbooks is not one of randomness, idealism and injustice mixed with bounty, or even conflicting notions of patriotism, it is one of controlled and inevitable progress. It's not a coincidence that the most prolific philanthropist on the left is George Soros, who understands that this narrative is incomplete, since he grew up in Nazi and Communist controlled territory as a child and understands that cultural rules are often arbitrary. How you tell a story is extraordinarily powerful, and switching narratives is extremely painful.
The notion of inevitable progress is embedded in the educated white liberal world. When I started blogging, just after a great and fulfilling college experience, I had this notion in my head that the breakdown of our political consensus was due to a communications problem. Democratic leaders did badly because they didn't communicate with the grassroots, and vice versa, conservatives wanted small government but wouldn't work with Democrats that wanted to shrink military spending, Republicans were betrayed by Bush, racism was in the past, etc. Progress is inevitable in this country, it was only miscommunication holding it back - we've figured out economic growth, Keynesian stimulus, science, computers, etc. America would soldier on, justly in most cases with a few errors here and there, but the best in the world, despite what some reactionaries on the left might add.
Among the dumber decisions in my life - and a direct result of this frame - was my support of the war in Iraq. Sure I had all the requisite liberal nonsensical 'go to the UN' qualifiers in there, and my support turned quickly against it before the conflict actually started, but in essence, I just sort of trusted American elites and abrogated my duty as a citizen to be skeptical towards those in power. And eventually, as I've worked in politics for five years, I've seen that the higher you rise the more likely it is that you deal with people who zealously believe in the righteousness of the modern American order, be it the current incarnation of the security state, a hardcore love of fruitless protests, a trust that media spotlights can change the world, or a strong belief in the righteousness of Republican or Democratic leaders. The bailout was a good example of how this translates into policy terms. Small dollar donors thought it was a bad idea, $2300 donors thought it was necessary, and $100k donors thought you were fucking insane if you didn't support a bailout. Now, the bailout was meant to stop a bank run for billionaires, and it's obvious that Paulson is just taking the trillion or so in the pot for his buddies in the name of systemic support. Screw the automaker unions, they are fat and happy with their hourly cost that rises to $60 or $70 an hour. Imagine that, workers that are overpaid! The nerve.
How did this happen? How is it that we find a morally equivalent sin in irresponsible CEOs taking millions and workers getting a middle class wage? And I don't mean elites, I mean most Americans, who do not support help for the auto industry. It starts with marginalizing people like Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, unions, Malcolm X, or perverting icons like Martin Luther King into safe Disney versions stripped of radicalism. That is how elites keep their story dominant, it's how they keep journalism they control credible, disgraced CEOs in power, and a residual force of American troops in Iraq in place as some sort of nonsensical end to the war in Iraq. If no one can tell a different narrative, then the default narrative is the only possible story to access.
But it's not just narrative, that's a tool. It also starts with refusing to recognize that we really truly do disagree with our fellow citizens on how our country should be ordered. If you don't countenance disagreement, then you'll get annoyed at people who 'cause trouble', and the dominant elite will be able to use norms like politeness to discredit left-wing political leaders like Pete Stark. You'll accept technocratic sounding expertise without skepticism from people like Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner, and Robert Rubin. Since elementary school, as James W. Loewen documents Lies My Teacher Told Me, we're taught to see America as a story of individual success, an unblemished narrative of increasing freedom and equality for all, with no villains, only misunderstandings causing quaint long-dead traditions like slavery and segregation.
Americans really do disagree with each other. A lot of conservatives really don't think that single women should be able to live in a city and have sex with whoever they want, and I don't think that conservatives should be able to teach creationism using public money. This is not something that is reconcilable. We don't agree on values. And progressive policy priorities follow on those values; resources should flow to the disempowered through a higher minimum wage, a progressive tax system, punitive measures against those that externalize their costs onto others, etc. Broad-based economic growth is important, not because GDP is good (who gives a fuck about GDP) but because that's a reflection of a progressive and fair value system that distributes power more evenly. A recessionary deflation is perhaps necessary, argue conservatives, because it is precisely the opposite, it moves power upward, to those honest and sober individuals wise enough to use it.
Conservative economics is predicated upon hiding these aristocratic norms in dry technocratic debates, and convincing liberal economists and elites that radicalism and populism is dangerous. After all, power in the form of complicated economic debates, should be held by a privileged few. That liberal economist worked hard to get where he is, he learned a lot of math, and he deserves to make decisions based on what's right, not what's politically popular. Arguing that poor people shouldn't have power is just not a reasonable narrative because it is a direct personal challenge to the meaning of aristocratic elites.
Ironically, aristocratic elites must use progressive arguments for why they are the meritocratic choice for making resource decisions, they must argue that their choice to deny freedom to some increases freedom overall, that conservative elitists are anti-elitists, that taxes and regulations create 'dead weight losses' and privilege special interests, that unions reduce power for workers, that the science of climate change is on their side, and that liberals control the government and our culture. The really believe all this stuff, so identifying how we disagree with them is tough, since their cognitive dissonance is so profoundly bound up in this series of progressive-sounding false narratives.
Frankly, though, the modern conservative construct is no different than the ideology of slaveholders, who gradually designed a cultural argument that slaves liked and needed slavery, though this collapsed as the Confederacy eventually tried to recruit slaves into their army with the 'reward' of emancipation. Aristocrats must provide meaning, and in the American construct, one in which the thirteen colonies revolted against England on behalf of democratic norms, meaning can only be provided via a fake liberal framework combined with an out group, the modern out group being subsumed into anti-American Muslim terrorist radical homosexual corrupt elitist leftist.
So when you hear economic growth, or any such ideologically neutral term, recognize that buried in it is a series of norms that redound to the power of aristocrats. The internet provides a vehicle to tell a different story, a competing narrative vehicle that does not require capital and/or power to access television. And that's why the left is using this medium, because it is a more democratic cultural system than the broadcast-suburbia complex.
So when you hear of experts preaching conservative arguments, be skeptical and take them not as knowledgeable credible sources, but as ideologues for the right. And when you hear of experts on the left, make sure that you find out whether these people have sacrificed for their beliefs, however small that sacrifice might be. Because the elite ideological indoctrination in modern America is extremely strong. And as we go into this mini-depression, we will challenge it.