Watching the train wreck

Fig. 1. Ben Carson. CNN, fair use.

It’s terribly early to be speculating on the outcome, but it’s also an interesting moment in the Republican contest for the presidential nomination in 2016. A recent poll out[1] suggests that Ben Carson, who very much appears to be pandering to the social conservative vote,[2] has pulled nearly even with Donald Trump (figure 2), who very much appears to be pandering to the authoritarian populist vote.[3] Carly Fiorina, who seems to be running a fact-free campaign,[4] also seems to be doing well.[5]

Anger with the political system and continued economic anxiety is propelling “outsider” candidates in both parties, including Mr. Sanders in the Democratic field and Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina among Republicans. Read more

  1. [1]Kyle Balluck, “Poll: Trump, Carson neck and neck atop GOP field,” Hill, September 27, 2015,; Patrick O’Connor, “WSJ Poll Shows Risks for GOP; Clinton Support Wanes,” Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2015,
  2. [2]see Lawrence M. Krauss, “Ben Carson’s Scientific Ignorance,” New Yorker, September 28, 2015,
  3. [3]see Michael Barbaro, Nate Cohn, and Jeremy W. Peters, “Why Donald Trump Won’t Fold: Polls and People Speak,” New York Times, August 22, 2015,; Bruce Bartlett, “Will Donald Trump Crack-up the Republican/Tea Party Alliance?” Big Picture, August 10, 2015,; Bill Curry, “The destruction of Donald Trump: How the billionaire with a rage problem became the frontrunner — and then fell apart,” Salon, August 10, 2015,; Ross Douthat, “Donald Trump, Traitor to His Class,” New York Times, August 29, 2015,; Jeff Greenfield, “What If Trump Wins?” Politico, August 4, 2015,; Jeet Heer, “Donald Trump Is Not a Populist. He’s the Voice of Aggrieved Privilege,” New Republic, August 24, 2015,; Kathleen Hennessey, “GOP strategist talks to Trump supporters and comes away believing he could win the nomination,” Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2015,; Mark Hensch, “Trump: I’m winning because Americans are ‘tired of being the patsies’,” Hill, August 29, 2015,; Marina Koren, “Donald Trump’s No-Apology Tour Continues,” Atlantic, August 25, 2015,; David Kurtz, “No Citizenship For You!” Talking Points Memo, August 19, 2015,; Caitlin MacNeal, “Poll Shows Trump Is By Far The Least Favorable GOPer Among Hispanics,” Talking Points Memo, August 25, 2015,; Amanda Marcotte, “Why Fox News’ Defense Of Megyn Kelly Is Going To Backfire,” Talking Points Memo, August 26, 2015,; Josh Marshall, “Act Two of the Trump Epic,” Talking Points Memo, August 19, 2015,; Suzanne McGee, “The US economic system is unjust. Says who? Says billionaire Donald Trump,” Guardian, September 6, 2015,; Evan Osnos, “The Fearful and the Frustrated,” New Yorker, August 31, 2015,; Alex Pappas, “‘Nothing Disqualifies Trump’ — What A Focus Group Tells Us About His Supporters,” Daily Caller, August 24, 2015,; Leonard Pitts, Jr., “Here’s hoping cooler heads prevail in GOP,” Miami Herald, July 18, 2015,; Andrew Prokop, “Donald Trump vs. the Club for Growth, explained,” Vox, September 15, 2015,; Janell Ross, “Donald Trump is now reaping what he has sown,” Washington Post, September 19, 2015,; Tierney Sneed, “Univision Prez Slams Trump: Treatment Of Jorge Ramos ‘Beneath Contempt’,” Talking Points Memo, August 27, 2015,; Kimberley A. Strassel, “The GOP’s ‘Whatever’ Moment,” Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2015,; Joan Walsh, “Donald Trump’s Southern strategy: What his Alabama pep rally revealed about the right’s new racial politics,” Salon, August 24, 2015,
  4. [4]Bethania Palma Markus, “Yale prof opens can of whoop-ass on Fiorina: She has an ‘almost psychopathic denial of reality’,” Raw Story, September 28, 2015,; Eugene Robinson, “Carly Fiorina’s ultraconservative rage,” Washington Post, September 28, 2015,
  5. [5]Kyle Balluck, “Fiorina jumps to second place in post-debate poll,” CNN, September 20, 2015,; Patrick O’Connor, “WSJ Poll Shows Risks for GOP; Clinton Support Wanes,” Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2015,

Off with their heads! The authoritarian populist revolt in the House of Representatives

So here I am, hoping to defend my dissertation on conservative views on undocumented migration soon—a dissertation researched and written with a view of conservatism not as monolithic but rather as composed of several tendencies—and the Speaker of the House, John Boehner (figure 1), a functionalist conservative, announces his resignation under fire from authoritarian populists.[1] The latter, presently known as the “Tea Party,” want to shut down the government unless funding for Planned Parenthood is eliminated from the budget.[2] Planned Parenthood isn’t all of it: There are also “the Export-Import Bank, debates over military vs. domestic spending, the Iran nuclear deal and the debt limit all threatening to play a part in at least a temporary government shutdown.”[3] Functionalist conservatives were determined to avoid yet another shutdown.[4] And so the authoritarian populists floated a dubious plan to push Boehner aside.[5] Read more

  1. [1]Dana Bash et al., “House Speaker John Boehner: ‘I decided today is the day’,” CNN, September 25, 2015,; Jennifer Steinhauer, “John Boehner, House Speaker, Will Resign From Congress,” New York Times, September 25, 2015,
  2. [2]Kristina Peterson and Siobhan Hughes, “John Boehner and His Patience Are Tested Anew by GOP Lawmakers,” Wall Street Journal, September 13, 2015,; Amber Phillips, “Get ready: Experts say a government shutdown is now even more likely,” Washington Post, September 14, 2015,; Todd S. Purdum, “The Cannibal Party: Being a GOP House speaker might be the worst job in Washington,” Politico, September 25, 2015,; Scott Wong, “House conservatives warm to McCarthy as Speaker,” Hill, September 15, 2015,
  3. [3]Amber Phillips, “Get ready: Experts say a government shutdown is now even more likely,” Washington Post, September 14, 2015,
  4. [4]Alexander Bolton, “Here we go again: Cruz vs. McConnell and Boehner,” Hill, September 24, 2015,; Tierney Sneed, “Anti-Abortion Hardliners Not Budging In Shutdown Fight With GOP Leaders,” Talking Points Memo, September 15, 2015,; Peter Sullivan, “Boehner, Pelosi huddle ahead of funding showdown,” Hill, September 17, 2015,
  5. [5]Gregory Koger, “The revolt against John Boehner: Worst. Plan. Ever,” Vox, September 16, 2015,

Hillary Clinton as the ultimate outsider

It’s probably a fool’s errand to try to rank outrageous statements in a political campaign. But my eyes rolled pretty hard when I heard that Hillary Clinton had claimed she “cannot imagine anyone would be more of an outsider than the first woman president.”[1] Oh, oh, my. Read more

  1. [1]Bradford Richardson, “Hillary: Who’s more of an outsider than a woman?” Hill, September 20, 2015,

No, we cannot all just get along: The dangerous delusions of the status quo

Even to the extent they agree with Bernie Sanders’ policies, many Democratic Party politicians agree that he can’t win a general election.[1] I agree with that assessment as well.[2] Read more

  1. [1]Mike Lillis, “Democrats: Sanders unelectable,” Hill, September 19, 2015,
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Bernie Sanders is doomed,” Not Housebroken, September 15, 2015,

Positivist and capitalist moral hazard

For me, it’s unbelievable. In the Diplomat, Yukon Huang and Patrick Farrell repeat an austerity orthodoxy:

The current growth slowdown has given rise to a widely shared view that China needs to shift to a more consumption-driven growth model and reduce its dependence on investment. Yet standard growth theory tells us that consumption is not part of the equation. Consumption is the result of growth; it does not drive growth.[1]

Read more

  1. [1]Yukon Huang and Patrick Farrell, “Is the China Growth Model Dead?” Diplomat, September 15, 2015,

The misleading $18 trillion—and precisely how it is important

It’s not surprising when partisans spin facts in a misleading way: These days I’m seeing it in claims made by both right and left, but Paul Waldman at the Washington Post does the yeoman’s work of unpacking[1] the Wall Street Journal‘s claim that Bernie Sanders’ proposals would cost $18 trillion.[2] Waldman’s article is worth reading in full but the short version is first, that $15 trillion of that number is for single-payer health care; and second, this is all money we spend or need to spend in one way or another anyway. Sanders, Waldman explains, has not released a specific single-payer health plan so, in truth, we don’t know how much it will cost. But there is no single-payer health plan in the world that is even as expensive as what we pay for health care in the U.S. now, so again, this is money we’re spending anyway. Further, the $1 trillion Sanders allocates for infrastructure, including fixing highways and bridges, falls considerably short of what’s actually needed.[3] Read more

  1. [1]Paul Waldman, “No, Bernie Sanders is not going to bankrupt America to the tune of $18 trillion,” Washington Post, September 15, 2015,
  2. [2]Laura Meckler, “Price Tag of Bernie Sanders’s Proposals: $18 Trillion,” Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2015,
  3. [3]Paul Waldman, “No, Bernie Sanders is not going to bankrupt America to the tune of $18 trillion,” Washington Post, September 15, 2015,

Bernie Sanders is doomed

It’s a tough circle to square and Bernie Sanders may be showing that it cannot be done. My thinking about his candidacy has been that in order to be viable, he would need to attract support from authoritarian populists who have suffered job losses from so-called “free trade,”[1] felt swindled by the bank bailout in 2008,[2] and also seem to share a suspicion of big money in politics. I was pleased that Andrew Prokop at Vox seems to share this thinking and moreover that this seems to be Sanders’ strategy.[3] Unfortunately, Sanders missed on two counts yesterday (September 14) in addressing a convocation at Liberty University, a social conservative institution founded by Jerry Falwell. Read more

  1. [1]Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).
  2. [2]Thomas Frank, Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (New York: Metropolitan, 2012).
  3. [3]Andrew Prokop, “Bernie Sanders’s speech at Liberty University wasn’t a stunt. It’s core to his campaign,” Vox, September 14, 2015,

Democrats: As always, making it easier for Republicans

It’s not like all is well on the right. Functionalist conservatives and others are once again confronting authoritarian populist (in its present incarnation, the “Tea Party”) hysteria—this time over Planned Parenthood—and the prospect of yet another vote-losing government shutdown[1] at the same time as Donald Trump appears increasingly likely to be the Republican Party nominee for president in 2016.[2] Read more

  1. [1]Kristina Peterson and Siobhan Hughes, “John Boehner and His Patience Are Tested Anew by GOP Lawmakers,” Wall Street Journal, September 13, 2015,
  2. [2]Jennifer Agiesta, “Poll: Donald Trump surges to 32% support,” CNN, September 10, 2015,; Kimberley A. Strassel, “The GOP’s ‘Whatever’ Moment,” Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2015,

An ‘advanced’ economic system

Fig. 1. Found on the Internet, fair use.
Fig. 1. Found on the Internet, fair use.

So somebody posted the meme (figure 1) shown at left. It’s a legitimate question, really, one explored at length by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.[1] The operative words in the text of the meme are crucial: We pay money “to live on a planet that didn’t cost a penny [emphasis added] to create.” Read more

  1. [1]Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, What is Property? trans. and eds. Donald R. Kelley and Bonnie G. Smith (Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University, 2007).

A national divorce

I don’t want to say too much about my dissertation publicly yet. An initial draft is written, my committee chair has favorably reviewed the first three chapters, and right now, good progress is being made.[1] But one thing I notice about conservatives is that facts often simply do not support their views. I’m not the only one to notice this, of course, but when it comes to undocumented migration from Central America, this attitude seems particularly brutal.

‘Facts’ are a little less clear cut in the case of the county clerk in Kentucky who was jailed for contempt of court for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.[2] The judge has, wisely I think, let her out of jail on condition she not interfere with the issuance of licenses[3] and thus apparently, at least for the moment and maybe only for the moment,[4] deprived social conservatives of their martyr. Read more

  1. [1]David Benfell, “So far, the dissertation is ‘terrific’,” September 6, 2015,
  2. [2]Alan Blinder and Tamar Lewin, “Clerk in Kentucky Chooses Jail Over Deal on Same-Sex Marriage,” New York Times, September 3, 2015,
  3. [3]Ryan Felton, “Kentucky clerk Kim Davis released from jail after judge lifts contempt ruling,” Guardian, September 8, 2015,
  4. [4]David Edwards, “Lawyers vow Kim Davis will violate court order and halt marriage licenses after release from jail,” Raw Story, September 8, 2015,