We the Regulators: Between Marxism and market fundamentalism is a new vision for progressive government.

AuthorAtkins, David
PositionHow Are You Going to Pay for That? Smart Answers to the Dumbest Question in Politics

How Are You Going to Pay for That?: Smart Answers to the Dumbest Question in Politics

by Ryan Cooper

St. Martin's Press, 368 pp.

Practicing progressive politics in 21st-century America can feel like being trapped in a vivid nightmare. You know that everything around you is wrong, you know you should be able to fix it or get out, but it's impossible--not because of the nightmare's antagonists but because of the bounded parameters of the dreamworld itself. Similarly, the dystopia that Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Milton Friedman built still controls not only our political destiny but also the very contours of how our brains process social and economic possibilities. We struggle to pass laws that would benefit the working class because we're constrained by a fear of moral hazard. We strain to invest even in badly needed infrastructure, much less broader human comfort, without budget-balancing "pay-fors." Property rights are held sacrosanct above human rights. Government action is viewed at best as a necessary evil in otherwise self-sustaining markets.

The resulting economic system is deeply unjust. We demand that the marginalized jump through endless hoops to receive benefits because they might get something they supposedly don't "deserve." We refuse to meaningfully tax billionaires who got rich through exploitation because too many legislators believe the ultra-rich should be able to shield their ill-gotten "property." Even when policy makers must intervene in the economy--as with stimulus payments resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic--it is often construed as a temporary deviation rather than an opportunity to reimagine the relationships between nations, economies, and the people within them.

There are signs that liberal governments are warming to deeper ideological changes. But in their efforts at reform, they are often met with fierce resistance. Moneyed interests lobby fiercely against any efforts to regulate their behavior. Right-wing populist movements attempt to destroy democracy altogether. And many of the leftists who do attempt an escape from this world find themselves under the sway of equally doctrinaire ideologies with horrific records of implementation. Reasonable people who want to implement a more humane political economy have few footholds to help them not only to organize for justice but also to begin constructing a practical intellectual scaffolding that can hold their system in place.

Ryan Cooper's excellent new...

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