A Concrete Agenda

Not enough words for you on intra-left bickering? Here’s more!

While I believe that we all play our own part, this is not to say that there aren’t things that Yglesias and other political commentators could be doing more to build left-wing institutional strength.

1. He could be reporting more frequently on the specific struggles of ordinary people in the US, and asking his readers to give their attention and money to these struggles.

2. He could be pushing for bigger institutional “fixes” in our political system that would change the way the game is played, such as propositions for alternative voting, smarter campaign financing, and a more democratic system of representation (to his credit, he does this a little).

3. He could push for a re-evaluation of the underpinnings of our society – property laws, zoning regulations, the boss-worker relationship, and so on – to see if rules that we adopted long ago still make sense for advancing human welfare today (to his credit, he is very good about housing and zoning issues on this count).

4. He could beat the drum louder on “payment transfers,” or what everyone else refers to as wealth redistribution from the rich to the rest. He always says he believes in explicit payment transfers, but a casual reader of his blog would be hard-pressed to discover this from the way he buries it in the last paragraph of a post on barber licensing or whatever. Direct distribution of money from rich people to poor people is an idea that falls outside of the window of mainstream American political discourse, and a relatively prominent blogger like Yglesias could go a long way toward normalizing it.

5. When he calls for more participation on the part of his readers, instead of suggesting that they write to their congressman he could suggest that they volunteer with an organization they like, show up to city council and development board meetings, and donate time and money to important causes. This both deepens democracy by creating more direct social-civic bonds among people, and will probably amount to a greater impact on the whole. The NGO outpost in which I worked simply wouldn’t have been able to function without volunteers, interns, and donations – and they do great work which directly helps hundreds of thousands of people, and have a broader effect by indirectly raising awareness about refugee issues.

While we shouldn’t invest too much time in second-guessing ‘technocratic’ solutions vs. ‘collective-action’ solutions, it is still worthwhile to reflect on what we’re doing to see if there are ways that Dudes on the Internet can deepen and strengthen democracy on the ground. Since Yglesias, Professor DeLong, and others are like people with megaphones in a sea of chatterers, they could bring their name-power to bear behind these issues in a way that many others can’t.

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