Vox Grows Up And Becomes A Gentry-Class Organ

Just the same old Wor-Shing-Tun Shuffle, only with a slightly different flavor.

It started when Ezra Klein made serious bank on giving lectures to insurance groups–while he’s a self-styled policy expert on healthcare. Now his partner-in-life and New York Times reporter Annie Lowrey thinks people whose jobs get shipped overseas should just shut up (boldface mine):

As soon as Dylan Matthews flagged Paul Theroux’s editorial in the New York Times as a monstrosity for caring about the fate of the American working class, I knew it was inevitable that the Voxxers and associates would gang up on him. It started with Annie Lowery. She made the very perceptive point that in fact Mississippi is not exactly like Zimbabwe. Wow, you mean Theroux might have made a rhetorical point? That’s what you want counter here? Obviously, Mississippi is not literally as awful as Zimbabwe.

But what’s far worse is her response to the poor of Mississippi:

Nevertheless, Theroux, in his travels, repeatedly asks people in low-income communities in the South whether the Clinton philanthropies have done anything to help them. “It really bothers me that Clinton does so little here,” one woman tells him. “I wish he’d help us. He’s in Africa and India, and other people are helping in the third world and those countries. We don’t see that money. Don’t they realize our people need help?” Not in the way that people in Zimbabwe do, lady. Not even close.

Really, that’s your response? Not, “you are poor and you have a legitimate claim that American policy has made you downwardly mobile. We should do something about that. Let’s think about how, starting with taking your concerns seriously.” No. The response is ideology hoisted upon this woman from 30,000 feet, as if Lowery is outraged a worker would actually be concerned about her own poverty. And it’s “There’s someone far away who is poorer. Your only hope of having a job or attracting help is to become poorer than them. Let’s see how you do.”

this group of writers is really uninterested in helping workers gain power over their own lives, whether through American unions or protesting on the streets of Dhaka and Hanoi. They generally support good social policy emanating from Washington that will have a positive affect on most Americans, like the ACA, but it extends no further. And if these people rise up and go on strike or talk about the real poverty in their lives, they are told that it’s OK for their nation to have worse safety regulations (and presumably then for their employers to dragoon them to work) or that it’s worse for those people over there, so sit down and be happy with that.

Matt Bruening describes the moral cowardice implicit in Lowrey’s worldview (boldface mine):

Neither Kenny nor Lowrey have actually responded to the point that outsourcing has hurt specific groups of people. They say they are responding to that point, but once you finally get to the money shot, they retreat back into pointing to aggregate gains….

Both Kenny and Lowrey try to paper over the existence of harms concentrated among certain groups by saying that cheap imports have actually made Americans overall better off. This is a common refrain (I’ve read it from the same sources they have) but it doesn’t actually respond to the point at all. The fact that goods cost 10% less than they would in the alternative doesn’t help someone whose income is 30% less than the alternative. This is because 30 percents is more than 10 percents.

Kenny hints at the fact that Lowrey’s rebuttal doesn’t work, but still remains very obtuse about it, saying only that “other rich countries” manage to deal well with outsourcing’s propensity for delivering concentrated harms and that globalization is simply a “force to be managed.” But this too doesn’t answer Theroux’s point: globalization has wrecked certain swaths of Americans and the US has not managed the forces of globalization so as to avoid this….

In theory, the US could set up its institutions to ensure that the gains from trade (e.g. those cheap imports Lowrey likes) were distributed in such a way that even those who lost their jobs to outsourcing would be better off. Where globalization or trade makes the US better off in aggregate, the US has the ability to ensue that nobody in the US is worse off for it.

But the US does not do that. No extended unemployment benefits were provided to the people Theroux talks about. There was no concerted effort to provide them free training, free schooling, free relocation assistance. There was no increase in social incomes to broadly share the GDP gains. Instead, the US just let working class people and communities flounder. The US even allowed entire great American cities to rot back to nothing, wasting massive amounts of built up housing and infrastructure. That’s how unbelievably negligent and cruel it has been.

None of this is to say that you can’t make an argument for globalization even despite the concentrated harms it delivers in the US. But if that’s your argument, actually make it. Don’t vaguely gesture at the idea that everyone wins when they clearly don’t and haven’t. That’s dishonest.

Unlike some who have criticized Team Vox, I don’t think this is neo-liberal–it’s not really about the societal role of the state versus the private corporation. What motivates this is base elitism, or perhaps more accurately, a bourgeois or gentry class mentality. Vox and the technobrat punditocracy, to its credit, has shown the ability to empathize when confronted with issues of race and gender. But when it comes to class, everything becomes an abstraction. That some middle class (in the true sense of the word, not the gentry class sense) 50-something couple has just seen their entire lives get up-ended–at best, they might have to relocate, or, if they can, find a lower paying job–even though they did what they were supposed to do elicits no sympathy whatsoever*. That their lives might have taken a permanent turn for the worse doesn’t seem to register, except to stimulate the Pavlovian response of calling for job training and education (though there aren’t enough high-paying jobs even if trained).

There’s more to ethical behavior, personal and professional, than just not being a shithead bigot. Though it doesn’t pay well. Nor is it respectable.

I guess the kids done all grown up…

*Remember ‘working hard and playing by the rules’?

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2 Responses to Vox Grows Up And Becomes A Gentry-Class Organ

  1. Although the last sentence is somewhat redeeming:

    “Rather than stealing back a shoe manufacturing plant, in other words, train Americans in faster-growing sectors like nursing and information technology, and give better support for the laid-off and the long-term unemployed. We’ll never look like Zimbabwe if we do that.”

  2. Mike, you nailed it at the start with the “Wor-Shing-Ton.” It’s not (just) elitism per se, it’s “Inside-the-Beltway-ism.”

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