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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Michael Lind and the Neo Modernist Party

Michael Lind, the Policy Director of the Economic Growth Program at the New America Foundation, a liberal think tank, is also one of my favorite columnists at  He is a New Deal economist and believes, as I do, that the mainstay of the economic engine that drives nations is stability and longterm growth, maintained by economic signals like rigorous regulation.

Anyway, he has an interesting post today on, which I do not entirely agree with, something which is unusual for me when reading his work.  His new manifesto, in the last paragraph:

"Here’s an idea. America needs to have a neomodernist party to oppose the reigning primitivists of the right, left and center. Let everyone who opposes abortion, wants to ban GM foods and nuclear energy, hates cars and trucks and planes and loves trains and trolleys, seeks to ban suburbia, despises consumerism, and/or thinks Darwin was a fraud join the Regressive Party."

He actually spends a fair amount of time pointing out that the Left has been engaged in its own romantic primitivism:

"The increasingly reactionary American left, disenchanted with nuclear power plants and rockets and suburbs, longed to quit modernity and retire to a small town with an organic farmers’ market and an oompah band playing in the town park’s bandstand."

I found this slightly offensive.  My woman is a big fan of promoting locavore restaurants and farmers markets.  When she can, she always prefers to buy local, but she is no regressive.  If it were up to her, she would never live in a suburb or small town again.  She's a big city girl, from a nation that actually has working government healthcare, so take that Michael Lind!  Now, it just so happens, Lind throws another dart, this one directly at me: "longing of many on the left for the Shire of Frodo the Hobbit."  Yeah, you know, I love the big city too, but I wouldn't mind living in a grassy hillock with trees and clean air.  I like the idea of wearing clothing until its worn out, and having one pair of good clothing for festivals and holidays.  But that doesn't make me regressive, I believe in the WPO and believe it to be one of the best organized human efforts in modern history.  Now, I can't lie, I have a private fantasy in which 95% of humanity moves to MegaTropoli which are completely self sustaining, and lets the larger part of the land fall back to pre-human-rapine beauty.  I like the idea of Green Cities and think they're completely possible, where economies of scale meet environmental care and concern.  Does that mean I'm resorting to primitivism?  Likewise, I'm surprised to read Lind criticizing those of us who support expanded public transit.  An essential tenet of New Deal liberalism is lowering the costs of production by expanding and increasing the transport of goods.  Lind has attacked these ideas before and been debunked.

I was thinking the other day about how I was raised.  And I was raised to receive gifts once or twice a year, not year round.  The only real treats in life were sugar (which was a bad habit admittedly) but at least the containers were cardboard and the product disolves in water.  And, I was thinking how commendable that was.  I'm terrible.  In my monthly accounting I keep a running list of how much I spend on myself every month on "pleasant" items.  Some of these expendistures were necessary, and you can see that 'Pleasantries' always spike in December, but why so high?  The fact of the matter is that we consume much more than is necessary, and its not regressive to suggest that, though it is, interestingly, the essential meaning of conservative.

That's all leftist romanticism is about, it's only about needing less and taking more care.  Certainly the sexual revolution in the sixties may have been more extreme, but in the more or less settled rhetoric of the past two decades, primitivist rhetoric on the left has principally been designed to promote thrift and protect the environment.  My family is full of New Deal democrats, and its true to some extent that they revel in all things technological.  Why bake bread when you can buy it, pre sliced.  Why cook dinner when you can make a TV dinner with a microwave?  And their largess created this:

I definitely appreciate modern conveniences, and like all who care about the environment, my beliefs are at war with my own intentional and unintentional hypocracies, but this isn't primitivism, this is conservation.  I believe in capital creation.  That's the economic theory that believes that the economy isn't a pie that only has a few slices to be doled out--that in fact, the money supply is always expanding, and so long as it keeps pace with wages and inflation, is A-O-K.  But the same cannot be said for the Earth.  Extinct species will never come back.  The forests that spawned the fairytales of old are gone and will only return if we alot space for them, and the species that inhabited them will never return.  Because I, like Nietzche and Heidegger, love the image of the Black Forest, does that mean I'm engaging in primitivism?  Hardly.

At any rate, I do enjoy the man's columns, particuarly his most partisan and flag burning.  I am, afterall, a Ravingleftatic myself.  But I'll take the train to that particular station.

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