2016 elections, Afghanistan-ism, Bernie Sanders, boardroom liberalism, Clinton Foundation, Democrats, Elizabeth Warren, free trade agreements, Hillary Clinton, Im-Politic, Joe Biden, Noam Scheiber, Obama, offshoring, Paul Theroux, poverty, reform, The New York Times, Trade
Here’s a must-read for you: Paul Theroux’ op-ed in The New York Times today on the hypocrisy of members of the American corporate class who have made towering fortunes by offshoring U.S. jobs to developing countries, and then have contributed to and even fostered charitable efforts that seek to alleviate the poverty their business models have produced.
The highlights (lowlights?) are too numerous to list. And besides, the entire article really does deserve your attention. But given the burst of interest in recent years occasioned by all the fiftieth anniversaries of milestones of the civil rights movement, this paragraph on the impact of offshoring on some of that period’s most revered stretches of hallowed ground in Alabama is just jaw-dropping:
“Selma may have been a political success and a great symbol, but it is an economic failure; Greensboro has some effective well-wishers, but it does not look very different from the town that James Agee wrote about and Walker Evans photographed in ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,’ which was published in 1941; Monroeville earns some revenue from the ‘Mockingbird’ literary pilgrims, but it lost more than 2,000 jobs when Vanity Fair Brands downsized its operations there. The catfish industry is faltering all over the state, thanks in part to fish imported from special-relationship Asia.”
In all, Theroux’ article is so devastatingly on target that I can only offer one observation to help round out, and one to help sharpen the author’s long overdue attack on the “strategy of getting rich on cheap labor in foreign countries while offering a sop to America’s poor ” through ostensibly good works – and implicitly on the pass this gimmick gets from our social, cultural, and political tastemakers. (That is, when they’re not explicitly praising and endorsing these crocodile tears displays).
First, Theroux’ inclusion of the role played in this snow job by the Clinton Foundation and its galaxy of one percenter business and entertainment industry supporters deserves much more attention, for two reasons. After all, the Clintons epitomize the politicians that the offshoring interests needed to buy with campaign contributions in order to push their agenda through Congress in the form of the string of job- and wage-killing trade deals that began with the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. Just as important – along with President Obama – they epitomize the Democrats and liberals who became champions of offshoring-friendly trade strategies even though they clashed violently with their avowed determination to fight poverty and expand opportunity and create more “inclusive growth.”
In this vein, their efforts to square this circle wound up fueling a broader approach to politics that New York Times labor reporter Noam Scheiber has insightfully called “boardroom liberalism.” Click here for a post where I discuss this phenomenon and describe it as “an especially insipid version of the ‘trickle down’ theories championed by most of [these liberals’] conservative rivals.”
Moreover, much of the fight for control of the Democratic party playing out in this year’s presidential campaign entails a fight between the boardroom liberals – represented not only by Hillary Clinton, but potentially by Vice President Joe Biden – and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. His supporters, of course, and those of fellow Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, favor reform programs that, if not more realistic substantively than those supported by the boardroom liberals, flow from views of economic power and human psychology that seem far more accurate.
I also hope that Theroux recognizes that to some extent his piece conflates two related but distinct problems: the boardroom liberals’ offshoring hypocrisy on the one hand, and what has been called their “Afghanistan-ism” on the other. What I mean by that latter term is the tendency of many of society’s avowed do-gooders (and I’m not using that term as such as a pejorative) to focus on dramatic, high-profile, exotic, and geographically distant problems and injustices that (perhaps not so coincidentally) they can’t do much about rather than on equally serious but more mundane woes right under their noses that they can plausibly hope to address meaningfully.
The author does a terrific job of upbraiding the boardroom liberals not only for their responsibility for domestic poverty but for their neglect of this situation in favor of funding all manner of charitable endeavors focused overseas. My reference above to the chances of solving or at least significantly easing domestic versus foreign problems indicates that boardroom liberalism and Afghanistan-ism are certainly closely related – by suggesting that major reform at home is the last outcome boardroom liberals want. But they’re not identical.
In any event, please read Theroux article. It speaks volumes about why the current two-party system today represents an obstacle to the kinds of change America so urgently needs, rather than a potential change agent.