@nytdavidbrooks, @GarettJones, @TheEconomist consider The Populist Menace: Bernie Sanders, in various keys. Old Socialist comments

What to say about David Brooks’ latest Anti-Sanders political hysterics? Not a surprise coming from a nearly recovering Neo-Con, who has discovered ‘The Second Mountain’ ? The New Democrats, and their current political allies the Neo-Cons, are under threat from the Sanders Insurgency, from within the Democratic Party. The New Democrats have lost control of a large portion of its membership. The why of that is of no interest to Brooks.

His potted political history of American Liberalism is so selective as to constitute self-serving propaganda: his specialty is describing a political landscape: the territory looks familiar, yet is altered to serve his purposes of moment.
Mr. Brooks in his rapturous description of ‘Liberalism’ has missed this history of his hobbyhorse:

Note how Brooks first describes F.D.R.

There was a period around 1936 or 1937 when Roosevelt was trying to pack the Supreme Court and turning into the sort of arrogant majoritarian strongman the founders feared. But this is not how F.D.R. won the presidency, passed the New Deal, beat back the socialists of his time or led the nation during World War II. F.D.R. did not think America was a force for ill in world affairs.

Is  the political evolution of F.D.R. relevant to the political present? Yes, if only he evolves from an almost arrogant majoritarian strongman, into a ‘Liberal‘ as described  by Brooks.

The last three paragraphs of his essay point to the ‘corrosive populists of both right and left’, yet the Centrists, the advocates/apologists for Neo-Liberalism, and America’s Wars of Empire, escape Brooks’ critical gaze! Perhaps, because he is an integral part of that coterie

There is a specter haunting the world — corrosive populisms of right and left. These populisms grow out of real problems but are the wrong answers to them. For the past century, liberal Democrats from F.D.R. to Barack Obama knew how to beat back threats from the populist left. They knew how to defend the legitimacy of our system, even while reforming it.

Judging by the last few debates, none of the current candidates remember those arguments or know how to rebut a populist to their left.

I’ll cast my lot with democratic liberalism. The system needs reform. But I just can’t pull the lever for either of the two populisms threatening to tear it down.


To use Barack Obama as the most current leader of Liberalism-should the evidence of Obama as unflagging supporter of TPP, even in the waning days of his administration, be indicative of Liberalism or Neo-Liberalism?

Compare Brooks’ polemic to this Book Review in The Economist that essentially fights the same battle against political irrationalism, born of the Neo-Liberal Swindle’s collapse, in a more ‘reasoned’ key? If more obliquely. ‘The Centrists’ are replaced by the equally nebulous ‘The Elites‘.

Headline: Why an excess of democracy can lead to poor decisions

Sub-headline: Cutting back on people power can be beneficial, thinks Garett Jones


The title of Mr. Jones’ book gives the game away! ‘10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust Elites A Little More and the Masses A Little Less. ‘The Posh Boys and Girls’ at The Economist show a bit of restraint, after the defeat of Corbyn – although these editors were capable of political hysteria, as this testifies:

What better defender of an ‘incremental trust’ in ‘The Elites’, than a graduate of Brigham Young University, and former economic adviser to Sen. Orrin Hatch? The wisdom of the elites from my vantage point, of almost 75 years, tells me that Mr. Jones is an ideologue of the political Right, seeking to squelch The Populist Menace . This makes Mr. Jones a fellow traveler of Mr. Brooks. Although Mr. Jones presents arguments in another key, the commonality is almost self-evident.

With the publication of ‘Liberalism at Large:The World According to the Economist’ by Alexander Zevin :

Has proven that The Economist is a ‘newspaper’ whose loyalty is to Capitalism and its economic/political Elite.

The Economist reviewer presents Jones as the victim of the ‘hostile reaction’ of not just students to his defence of Elites but a widening circle of critics. That reaction convinces Jones that he has a potential book, given the negative reaction.   The Economist’s interpolations on the themes of Mr. Jones

This is a fertile time for critiques of democracy. In light of the use of state apparatus by elected leaders to undermine an opponent in America, murder people in the Philippines, render a religious minority stateless in India, threaten judicial independence in Poland, and rob the public purse in South Africa, the system which has long provided the rich world with a satisfying mix of moral superiority and stable government is looking a bit ropy. A report last month from the Centre for the Future of Democracy at Cambridge University found that support for democracy had declined sharply in most of the world since the 1990s, including in America and western and southern Europe. The world’s biggest autocracy, meanwhile, is bringing prosperity to its own population and extending its influence round the world.

But as Mr Jones discovered, criticising democracy in the West is still a bit like launching a broadside against the pope in 15th-century Europe—or against a modern-day authoritarian president. You can suggest that all is not going to plan, but you will get a friendlier reception if you pin the blame on dodgy advisers or foreign interference, rather than on the concept itself.

Mr. Jones, as presented in this ‘review’, believes in a maladroit economic reductionism to describe politics.

By contrast, Mr Jones plants responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the voters. As an economist, he approaches democracy as a production system whose output is governance, and examines how it can be tweaked to improve the product. The core of “10% Less Democracy” is thus research on whether more or less democracy produces better or worse outcomes for countries and citizens.

Mr. Jones’ 10% resembles a more current expression of The Founders and their checks against too much democracy, in the Electoral College and the bicameral legislature. Or  more contemporary thinkers like Walter Lippmann, whose faith in ‘technocrats’ , experts,  as a necessary check against too much democracy. Yet the contemporary ‘technocrats’ expertise have proven to be not just misbegotten but catastrophic.

The writers at The Economist, in these two paragraphs, first celebrate the ‘insights’ of Mr. Jones, and then face the fact, that his polemic suffers from the drawbacks of his maladroit use of this perennial literary genre.

Mr Jones musters plenty of convincing evidence that fewer elections and more distance between voters and decisions make for better governance. But he stretches the argument for limiting democracy far beyond that observation. He is attracted by the idea of “epistocracy”, or rule by clever people; he advocates giving an official role in decision-making to bondholders, who already constrain governments’ freedom by raising the costs of lending to badly managed countries.

These arguments expose the flaw at the centre of this interesting and enjoyable book. Mr Jones looks at democracy as an economic system. But for most people, democracy’s moral component is also essential. It is an expression of the belief that everybody is equal in the sight of God or the presence of the ballot box, and that a country’s people should have power over their government. Less democracy may mean more sensible outcomes, but it also means less legitimacy.


Brooks, Jones and The Economist’s writers all warn the reader of the dangers of ‘political irrationalism’ : Brooks inveighs against the unhinged populism of Sanders, Mr. Jones against ‘too much democracy’ and  offers the haven of a lesser incremental trust in ‘Elites’ , the Economist writers ‘review’ Jones’ book, as part of using argument to make the case against the phantom, that has its roots in the failed social/political engineering of Neo-Liberalism.

Old Socialist









About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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