There isn't one! But anything can be taken too far.
The only thing I'd add to this terrific column is how, by contrast, untethered the Right generally has become from any "take accountability" of its own. Even by the standards of the 2000s, or certainly of the 90s/80s, today's MAGA-fied Right really has descended further into nihilism, nonsense and inconsistency. So while the educated liberal set (overrepresented in subscribers here) tend to bemoan the excesses of the Left, this is partly simply because absolutely no one expects the Right to meet the same standards, because it sets none for itself. We are having this (healthy) conversation at all. The other guys do not.
As someone who generally agrees with the left on issues from climate change to race to inequality and health care, and as someone who is also on the receiving end of a disproportionate amount of the new left’s venom and hate (as a Jew), I find what is going on quite disturbing.
This all brings to mind something a rabbi /PhD and mentor of mine (may he rest on peace) once sadly said to me a few weeks before he took part as an outside reader on my PhD defense, “his sadness was that he couldn’t pray with the people he spoke with, and he couldn’t talk with the people he prayed with.” His comment was a reference to his being personally Orthodox Jewish, which was incompatible with many of his academic ideas and personal liberal values. This is how I feel today.
Milton Friedman has this idea of quadrants of money, you spend your money on yourself most carefully and someone else’s money on someone else least carefully.
It seems to me a lot of left wing ideas are that kind of sloppy because they’re ideas for other people for the most part.
While I agree with parts of this column, overall it reflects IMO what I've long thought is the biggest blind spot in the Slow Boring worldview. Matt tends to interpret any discussion of politics and political culture, in the broad sense of differing ideologies of public order, as if it were really about policymaking -- and relatively near-term policymaking at that -- or as if it in all seriousness ought to be. Often this tendency leads to novel insights and gains in analytic rigor. But occasionally I think it leads Matt simply to miss the level of analysis his interlocutors are interested in.
The trends Barro is talking about don't manifest primarily in terms of things one might lobby elected officials to do. Their most immediate effect is on the everyday assessment of interpersonal interactions, modeled in larger-scale terms not by a legislative agenda but by the evaluation of historical events or happenings in faraway countries.
Where the new ideology assumes the mantle of power, it tends to be in the form of case-by-case administrative decision-making, like assigning fault in a particular campus dispute. To borrow a distinction from administrative law, its primary vector is adjudication, not rulemaking. But even that overstates its orientation to concrete policy outcomes. What we are really talking about is a shift in modes of thought, forms of argument, symbols and styles of deportment.
At that level, it does seem as if something quite new has been happening since about 2014, to an extent that can't be explained as simply a leftward shifting of some preset curve. If that impression is wrong, it needs to be rebutted at its own level. It can't be explained away as just another instance of a more or less stochastic tendency to "take things too far."
"...but overriding racial justice maximalism when it came to keeping public schools open."
If you recall, there was a huge hand-wave of this with the idea that somehow reopening schools earlier than later would lead to a genocide-by-virus of marginalized Black and Latinx youth:
https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2021/03/why-black-parents-arent-joining-the-push-to-reopen-schools/ for one example.
Nobody can produce an accurate analysis of this 'movement' without realizing that they're only slightly more committed to intellectual rigor/consistency than talk radio conspiracy types. There's always a way by which anyone who opposes your policy proposals is literally eating BIPOC babies.
re the point on charter schools and unions: the Barro take about leftwing positioning to be strictly about identity is mostly right, but I'd add that that identitarian deference only applies to people already on the team.
Like, a leftwing Black woman who works for a university or nonprofit will never be criticized, but Condoleezza Rice absolutely will (and often more harshly, as apostates are the worst sinners)
Thank you for the interesting and insightful analysis. What you’re saying makes a lot of sense to me.
On top of that, I think that politics, on significant parts of the left (particularly NGO’s and activist groups) and most of the right has expressed the shift towards greater tribalism as essentially a switch from an a la carte menu to a fixed price one. Been reading your work since Vox, and I think your experience was pretty good evidence of that. It isn’t enough to share most ideas when membership in a group requires subscription to an orthodoxy. I think this has taken a lot of room for ideological disagreement out, further reinforcing the tribalism aspect and allowing said orthodoxies to become less and less tethered to reality by removing voices that disagree on any of the idea considered sacrosanct.
The first thing I thought of when I read this article were my thoughts about intersectionality. I've always liked the concept, as it seems correct to me in an almost banal manner that the intersections of 2+ identities can create unique personalities and views that should be observed more.
But it's unfortunate that the most prominent people who preach the multidimensional nature of intersectionality use it to reconstruct a one dimensional Oppression Olympics chart, in only focusing on the intersections that make a person exceptionally oppressed, or exceptionally the oppressor. But in almost all cases, the intersections will create classes that are simultaneously oppressed and are the oppressor. Any Palestine/Israel debate is the largest fly trap in this regard: it's clear that both sides have heavily taken on both roles, but so many want to devolve it into that oversimplified one dimensional chart and pick a side they feel is most oppressed.
Humans in general just really struggle with comprehending nuance.
I think the problems on both left and right are more readily explained by the rise of modes of thinking rooted in illiberalism, as opposed to the particular position of the center of the political spectrum on the left-right axis at this moment in time.
There are lots of factors feeding that rise, including the rise of the right’s propaganda arm, the hard left building a bureaucratic DEI motte within higher education’s bailey, a decline in analytical rigor about the people paid to think about issues in favor of self-dealing, and social media leveling the playing field for every nutjob and idiot to shout catchy slogans out into the void.
Not sure how to stuff everything back in Pandora’s box, however.
Just a reminder, everyone go vote today!
A major constraint on the left is internal migration. People are moving away from big blue cities and towards red or purple suburbs. They might spout leftist ideology in their 20s and early 30s, but once their children reach school age, it’s better to chose a school system run by chamber of commerce Republicans than teachers unions.
I never thought I would like the leafy suburbs so much. I moved during the pandemic mainly because my wife switched jobs after Delta laid off all its contractors. I’m so glad we did. I am far more comfortable socially and physically living in a precinct that Trump won by 18 points than one Obama won by 90 points. It disgusts me that so many of my neighbors support a man who incited a mob to storm the Capitol after he lost an election. Yet they are nice people and good neighbors, so much so that these days I only go to Atlanta for court.
I don’t think libertarianism contributes much to the debate that a sensible moderate Republican couldn’t. I just get frustrated with libertarian intellectuals because it always comes back to the heroin at 7-11 stuff and I ain’t got time for that.
Libertarianism is just a political religion of selfishness that pretends anarchy is actually a species of socialism.
So there is a little tangent in here I think is worth interrogating. Matt seems to think, here and on twitter, that a shift in Democrat identification from "moderate" to "liberal" is leftward movement in the electorate... which I think is dubious. The articles he is responding to here are specifically to the rise of the illiberal left. "Liberal" is a dirty word on the left. Democrats who are embracing liberalism are specifically rejecting the leftward movement of the coalition. The same shit is happening on the right. I'm a libertarian who's far more likely to identify as "liberal" these days than any time before, because the Mises Caucus "Libertarian" party assholes are illiberal Trumpist shills.. The bipartisan shift from moderation to liberalism is people across the spectrum rejecting the broad populist/identitarian turn in our national politics, not at all a shift left.
Biden's "better prescription drug coverage" you love to tout is already leading to fewer drugs in the pipeline: https://www.wsj.com/articles/seagen-david-epstein-cancer-drug-study-inflation-reduction-act-biden-price-controls-231ee740?trk=feed_main-feed-card_feed-article-content
Price controls are bad and have bad outcomes.
Crooked Media's "do-something progressivism" is something I think the Slow Boring community should really be aware of. They are always taking and encouraging action whether that's voting, running for office, campaigning, organising or donating, and they consistently discourage "shouting into the void" whether on social media or anonymously to journalists. Pod Save America I think gets a couple million listeners a week and they have a load of other podcasts as well now.
This article and comments section is yet another episode of "Slow Boring wants progressives to be more constructive", and while the criticisms are valid, there are progressives doing the right thing and I think that should be recognised. "Not all leftists" take things too far.
My theory of the left: movements built on opposition to mainstream ideas (eg critical theory, etc) are abysmal at adapting to their own success.