I sense a straw man lurking in your framing of the debate between versions 3.0 and 4.0. How many free-marketers (3.0 liberals) would truly idolize the 19th century?
This is an interesting way to do mental gymnastics, even though I don’t agree that there will be so much continuity from ‘liberalism 4.0 to 5.0,’ as you term them.
What is more interesting to me, would be to think about what effect America’s spearheading of global prosperity will have on its position and avenues of opportunity-exploitation in international politics.
It seems to me that the most important emerging theme of 21st century America is the increasing importance of disintermediation. Big “anything” is increasingly less competitive and this includes big business, big labor and big government.
Disintermediation is literally changing the face of America; it started in the financial field (the emergence of ultra-low fee brokerage accounts in the 1990s began the process) and was facilitated by the internet revolution. A major result of financial disintermediation was the housing bubble; when banks and bank-like institutions became mere originators or mortgage loans that were then immediately riced, diced and sold in packages to individual investors instead of permanent owners of mortgage debt, everything changed.
Disintermediation has also hit the entertainment business in a profound way. Consumers no longer need to rely on their cable companies to watch television; they can go to Hulu or Netflix (at far lower prices). They no longer need to rely on NBC or Fox for programming, they can go to You Tube where artists can produce material and distribute it directly to the consumer. It’s the same with musicians; they can market their music directly to the end user without the record companies serving as intermediaries.
The same thing has even happened with food. Professor Mead, when he’s at the Mead mansion, can walk down the street to a farmer’s market one or two days a week (or he can take a short subway ride to the huge Union Square Farmers Market) and procure his food directly from the farmer who grew it. He no longer needs to rely on “C Town” or “Pathmark” or “Associated” or “Stop and Shop.” The same thing is true of wine and spirits; I can buy them directly from the vintner on the internet; I no longer need to go to the liquor store. I can do the same with coffee, cheese, chocolates and many other food items.
I don’t think it will be long before the same trend hits higher education. Why should Professor Mead permit Bard or Yale to extract his surplus value? How long will it be before Professor Mead can hook up with an expert in literature, math, science and the like and offer students their own on-line university courses? If Mead and colleagues charged a mere fraction of what Bard or Yale charge for tuition to offer course work on-line he could make 20 times whatever his Yale or Bard salary is and at the same time student tuition would be far more affordable. What do Yale or Bard offer that students and teachers couldn’t get without them other than overpaid administrators, a pretty campus and a food service that serves barely edible food?
I think any Liberalism 5.0 is going to need to take this trend into account. Disintermediation is the wave of the future; accommodating to it will be an important challenge that the United States faces in the early part of the 21st century. Any new governing philosophy will need to figure out how to do that.
Well thought and written, as always. The only apprehension I have is with your description of successful politicians giving people what they want, especially in an age diminished self-reliance and personal responsibility.
While I like the ‘five wants’ you describe, an alarmingly large and growing portion of our populace either effectively pays nothing into the federal till or are net recipients of taxpayer largess. Quite naturally, they will vote for those who promise and deliver more goodies, balance sheet and treasury be damned.
Also, I don’t know where we got the idea that jobs should be immutable while progress should continue unabated all around us. But you’re right, America’s job is to come up with the future, because stopping the world is impossible.
No mention of the constitution here, no mention of the restrictions on government which our founders built in.. only a discussion of how big govt should be and what things it should be more and less responsible for.
It’s obvious to me that what we need is a return to the 19th century, not the agrarian economy but the ethos of individual responsibility and freedom. Low taxes, little government interference, and a constant public discussion over how to help the needy and lift up the lowest among us, not permanent care except for those that genuinely need it but temporary help, a hand up.. the citizens of this country CAN AND WILL DO THIS THEMSELVES.. there is no need for a welfare state.. and since 2/3rds of our budget is spent on THAT, just imagine how low our tax bills could go! Think outside the box and back into the constitution. It’s there.
Yep. 4.0 is dead and should be buried…Bush proved that. Obama rejects it but instead is trying for turbo 4.0. Anyone who wants to reclaim the American dream for Americans should be looking at radical education reform and massive deregulation. We are a lillipution giant being strangled by the mistakes of the past. But in today’s world it seems that every liberal interest group has standing to thwart just about anything that I would regard as sensible. The “ratchet” stops reform in its tracks.
Think carefully before your next rhetorical move Mr. Meade. Will 5.0 allow a solution of the fiscal crisi and still give the American people that which they demand? Personally I am dubious that 5.0 exists if it is a suite of top down programs formulated by a ruling elite but disguised sufficiently so that the hicks never catch on that they have been snookered again.
Perhaps Sarah Palin has the answer: common sense solutions by government and citizens in their different domains guided by the Constitution.
Building on both Randy and Igor, there is worse than a ‘straw man lurking’ here, nor can there be much continuity ‘from liberalism 4.0 to 5.0’. 20th century liberalism’s success depended on exploiting the debt capacity of the nation. Worse it depended on using that debt for current benefits not just capital projects. The corporate equivalent would be adding debt and using it to pay dividends. We can’t just stop doing this, there has to be a pullback and there is no sign of any appetite for realism about this on the left. So, the critical question is whether the last election signaled there is now a robust majority willing to sustain the ‘new’ Republicans as they cause some genuine, short-term pain.
Thank you for some clear thinking about American politics.
Liberalism 4.0 is dead because it can’t pay its bills. Because it will soon be laying off many government employees, it is like an army that can’t pay its soldiers.
Any viable 5.0 will have to bring prosperity. That means creating a political environment where export industries can thrive. Service industries are much less important because they can only exist in communities where exporters (manufacturers, miners, financial firms that serve customers outside the local community)already are thriving. When I say “export,” I mean a business that can sell to customers in another zip code as well as to customers in another country.
One problem with a viable 5.0 is that America’s political class lacks basic understanding of economic reality and has no idea of what needs to be done to restore health to export industries. Mitch Daniels is a possible exception. I don’t even like Mitt Romney on this issue. He did not work to help Massachusetts’ business climate the way Mitch has worked in Indiana.
We Americans will continue to get our butts kicked in manufacturing until we get some leadership that knows how to turn things around. That leadership must be political. Big manufacturing companies will continue to send jobs overseas as long as it pays them to do so. Political changes must come that prove to those manufacturers that they can make more money by keeping jobs here.
I disagree with what I view as WRM’s version of free trade dogma. I say that the Asians are mercantilist nations, and that the true course of free trade is to make mercantilists open up their markets. I believe that our highest priority should be to open up Asian markets, even if that includes doing some things that are not nice.
FINALLY somebody points out the elephant in the room — you cannot recreate the global economic environment in which 3/4 of the world’s civilian/capitalist industrial base had been smashed flat by mass-bombing. I have mentioned this often in my (non-age-segregated community-college) classrooms — younger students get it instantly, older students are frequently shocked when it’s pointed out to them.
Difficult as it is to accept for someone whose experience has been primarily lived in it, the post-WWII world was a historical aberration which is not coming back — and shouldn’t. Therefore, liberalism *must* either grow and change with the times, or else simply wither and die.
‘Nobody has a real answer for the restructuring of manufacturing and the loss of jobs to automation as well as outsourcing.’ Making things via mass industries is only one way of making ‘wealth’. The provision of any service to people that they genuinely want and need is just as good a way of making money as making a car or a cellphone. After manufacturing comes the service economy, or actually a hybrid of all the other ways of making money other than purely mass manufacture.
You fail to note that there are many (and not all the Liberalism 3.0 caricatures you describe) who simply recognize that Liberalism 4.0 has led the Federal government to clearly exceeded the bounds of the Constitution.
If we are to proceed at all we must decide whether we are to attempt to resume operating withing those bounds, otherwise we must re-write the Constitution. To continue down the road of less and less fidelity to our foundational document may mean a successful nation, but it will mark an end to the American experiment.
Lady Thatcher put it much more succinctly.
One point you did not address well in the failures of liberalism 4.0 is the plutocratic nature of big gov today. The the governing class has become a specially protected unaccountable elite, just as bad as the 19th century robber barons were as far as their despising the lower classes and protecting themselves, but worse in that they dont seem to deliver any prosperity and tangible results, like the robber barons did. We seem to have the same kind of crony capitalism as the robber barons, with gov connections trumping ability, but without the railroads, factories, and inventions the robber barons delivered. And the governing class seems to want to rule every aspect of our lives, without delivering us anything in return, except for benefits for themselves, at enormous cost. Compared to todays failed governing class, the 3.0 era robber barons are looking pretty good by comparison.
There is more that is worthy of enduring from liberalism 3.0 than from the 4.0 version. Where people like Hayek and Mises are clearly right is in their framing of the knowledge problem–i.e., that there is no way that all the decentralized, site-specific and tacit knowledge distributed across the economy and society could ever be gathered by centralized policy makers. Liberalism 4.0 could pretend to such knowledge for awhile, probably because of the centralization imposed by the World Wars and Cold War, but by the late 70s this model was already stifling innovation and the worst part of the health care law is that it has no way of factoring in all the possible innovations in health care and delivery. I wouldn’t be surprised if almost all of 4.0 is swept away, while much of 3.0 resurges. What will be different now (in 5.0) will be the renaissance in civil society, as an enormous variety of private insurance and regulatory mechanisms emerge to provide Americans with the security and trust in each other and institutions that they want. That’s what will happen, at any rate, if the partisans of 4.0 don’t drag us down with them as they double down on their fantasies.
You state: “Neither 3.0 nor 4.0 was stabbed in the back; they both died of success.”
I disagree. Liberalism 4.0 is a parasitic model that succeeds only as long as its host survives. As for what people want, we still have a Constitution, although most politicians and too many citizens have forgotten.
Superb essay. Accurate and well-written.
Marxists hijacked liberalism after LBJ and have undercut the defense/security argument. If liberalism could purge that strain of thought (and survive the process) they could create a liberalism that wasn’t simply crony capitalism that sneered at the military and non-union workers.
I’ve no potshots to send your way, merely best wishes for a successful argument along with the suggestion that you incorporate the empirical evidence that there’s no escaping Hauser’s law: tax revenues as a share of GDP have averaged just under 19%, whether tax rates are cut or raised.
Boosting the rates sky-high chokes economic growth; cutting rates to today’s or lower levels boosts growth. The latter seems preferable, it’s better to cut rates and get 19% of a larger pie.
There’s a chart here: http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2009/09/graph_of_the_day_for_september_9.html
And an article on the evidence here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703514904575602943209741952.html?KEYWORDS=hauser
Instigating confiscatory rates in fits of class envy are spectacularly counterproductive because those in the lower income ranges see opportunities evaporate in the resulting economic downturn. Besides that, most Americans don’t believe that taking more from those in better neighborhoods improves their situation for the simple reason that the governing class never has enough money to do all the things they think they need to do to get re-elected.
Our coming challenge is to work hard in a thriving economy to pay off the bills resulting from our past profligacy and failure to watch those who’ve been tapping our piggy banks.
1. Oh sure, “A generation ago, blue liberalism was pretty good at giving most of the people what they wanted, and between 1932 and 1968 blue liberals dominated American politics.”
But how/why? It was only because the rest of the world had been blown up in WWII.
2. The problem now is that post 1960’s liberalism has grown a huge class of parasites whose idea of freedom is a government handout disguised as a ‘right.’
The dilemma is that freedom for those on the government dole — and this includes many public employees — is enslavement for the productive of society.
3. “American public opinion, for example, continues to move toward acceptance or at least toleration of homosexuality ..”
Funny, but whenever homosexual marriage is put up to a popular vote, it loses. It is perhaps more accurate to say that the ruling elite have been successful in pushing this perversion down America’s throat.
I think the four classifications of liberalism ignore the salient points of individualism versus statism or collectivism. From there, it’s an easy mistake to think that agrarianism was a cultural prime mover in 3.0, rather than a consequence.
Individualists and entrepreneurs turned to farming in the 19th century as a mode of subsistence, survival, and potential prosperity. It was not an a priori given, such as that same individualistic spirit.
4.0 was built on subverting this same spirit to the state, and maybe arguably had nothing to do with 3.0 liberalism. Nevertheless, the question is right. Giving the people what they want is a constant – allowing individuals the freedom to pursue their most prosperous course. Arguably, this lies in the realm of small business and technological entrepreneurship.
I’ve often wondered–without result–what I would want as an opposition party to conservatism. It surely isn’t the Democrat Party of today. Progressivism for progressivism’s sake is elitist [pleasurable activity without further purpose or result — ed]. I await Mead’s next column for any insight.
“you cannot recreate the global economic environment in which 3/4 of the world’s civilian/capitalist industrial base had been smashed flat by mass-bombing.”
That’s not entirely accurate. Wars are often the consequence of extended political and economic instability, and sufficient bombs both conventional and nuclear still exist to crush all the industries of the world. I believe the United States could recover more quickly than any other nation from such an catastrophe, but I’m not eager to put it to the test.
Dr. Mead continues to search in vain for some moral or practical justification for his Liberalism 4.0.
It has been readily foreseeable, since the Founding Fathers, that the underlying political and economic mechanisms of Liberalism 4.0 are untenable in the long run with both prosperity and freedom. Certainly Liberalism 4.0 can and has bought votes to achieve political power but at the cost to the body politic in taxes, debt, and liberty.
Sorry, but it is saddening to watch a good mind be so naive or else so self-deluded. Ivory towers will do that to you.
Wig-Wag (#3) is more-or-less spot on. We’re due for a return to decentralization. Using the model presented, in the era of Liberalism 3.0, a state apparatus that could achieve centralization of power was technologically infeasible and thus too expensive. With improved communication and transportation, Liberalism 4.0 could achieve a degree of comforting stability and uniformity, double plus because, as others have mentioned, our industrial base was essentially untouched in WWI and WWII.
Now, technology and cost has shifted the other direction. Good-bye lumbering dinosaurs, hello small, smart, little mammal things. The transition will be interesting, and painful. We’re going to have to shed some of our risk aversion, for instance.
…and I’m not even sure that at the end of this phase our concept of the nation state will remain the same, but I think it’s inevitable.
If anyone hasn’t already read it, I’d recommend Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” as food for thought on a future that may be just around the corner.
As to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, the fact that two thirds of those polled said in effect, “go ahead a kill yourself” doesn’t give me much comfort.
Thank you for this post. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one thinking these very same thoughts. I’m on the edge of my seat, waiting for your solution.
“Marxists hijacked liberalism after LBJ and have undercut the defense/security argument. If liberalism could purge that strain of thought (and survive the process) they could create a liberalism that wasn’t simply crony capitalism that sneered at the military and non-union workers.”
This here is the dead-on critical point that cannot be emphasized enough.
Much of what Professor Mead describes as the things most Americans want and believe in can be summed up in the neat little phrase “American Exceptionalism”. The reason why liberalism 4.0 succeeded so spectacularly from TR through LBJ is that during that period, the idea of American Exceptionalism was still embraced by most of America’s leadership IN SPITE OF the country’s glaring flaws on issues like racial and gender equality.
The schism that formed during LBJ between the patriotic wing of Liberalism 4.0 and the new Marxist wing would of course eventually tear the liberalism 4.0 coalition apart and lead to the rise of the “Reagan Revolution”.
Unfortunately for our nation, the Marxist wing has today clearly become the dominant wing of modern liberalism. With a few rare exceptions like Professor Mead in academia, Senator Lieberman in politics, and Pat Caddell in the media, most modern 4.0 liberals find the very notion of American Exceptionalism repulsive and reject it out of hand.
If liberals are ever going going to hope to truly gain the upper hand in America once again, they are somehow going to have to find a way to re-embrace this core value they chose to reject a generation ago.
americans want a much less intrusive government that would be, by definition, more friendy and supportive of new businesses and business growth. they remember the sons of liberty and the framers.
Professor Mead, I think you are being a bit hard on LBJ and the ‘Great Society’ crowd. Much as loath the philosophy behind it, this attempt and the time in which LBJ undertook seems brave and well a worthwhile pursuit. American power was at its zenith: he education system had opened up to the masses, oil was dirt cheap, dirty hippies could work 3 months out of the year and still have enough money for pot, beer and shelter, American industry was still unrivaled in the world. Why not undertake legislation to pull Afro-americans out of poverty, or open the borders to non-European immigrants?
LBJ did not know real wages would become stagnant since 1974 or that American industry would eat itself in labor strife and be overcome by more efficient foreign manufacturing. I do not blame LBJ or Liberalism 4.0 for their long-term failure of such a policy, but for their refusal to adapt their dreams to the unpleasant exigency of reality.
In a sense, it is very similar to your definition of “honor” and its interplay with the fundamental conceptions of the American body politic. I would add an addendum, pace The Simpsons–don’t piss on me and tell me it is raining.
Everyone knows that the old verities do not hold true, but the political class refuses to consider large scale, existential reforms. One industry may be deregulated while another become regulated, but neither political party is willing to create a platform for American life that coincides with the stresses, fears and limitations of our current society. All the constituent blocs of both parties continue to get sweet-heart treatment despite its detriment to the country.
I still think the movement from TR to FDR and beyond involved a lot more than just rejiggering, as I said before. I would even say that the alliance between the Federal government and big business that arose in WWII and the was consolidated after it reverses some of the assumptions of TR liberalism. And it’s put us in a position, some people say, where the Federal government needs to favor large financial interests to get preferential treatment for financing its own operations. That would have been pretty much unthinkable before the Depression.
But I see you’re wedded to this scheme no matter what….
I’d say rather that I’m painting in such broad brush strokes that I haven’t engaged much with these points.
1. An immigration moratorium.
2. Repeal of Nafta and Gatt
3. Out of Afghanistan
4. Overturn Citizens United
National polls show the overwhelming majority of the American people favor all four of these items. It would be a start.
Funny how every commenter here missed the one key thing that made the U.S. economy go for so long after World War II: dirt cheap oil. That, combined with the fact that the U.S. economy was the only one standing after World War II, mostly explains our economic and political domination of the world for half a century. Things are going differently now, with oil nearly $90 per barrel–in the face of a still very slow world economy.
Maintaining our current way of life and consumption faces very rough sledding, now that the 3 billion+ people in China and India, among other places, want to emulate the U.S.’s vast, self-indulgent, wasteful suburban/consumer culture, particularly the mushrooming demand for oil from the potential hundreds of millions of additional automobiles in those countries. What we can actually have in the near future will certainly fall short of what people “want,” despite the puerile nostalgia of the Tea Party movement, among other centers of U.S. lunacy.
WigWag is right and what he calls “disintermediation” is going to be the key factor going forward. We have been seeing an era emerge in which individuals are empowered by technological innovations in ways that wasn’t possible in the past. This is going to become the driving force for how we organize our economy, politics, security, and society in general.
This is why, in my comment on the previous post, I called for the articulation and development of a “startup liberalism.” From the Founding generation to today the challenge has always been to build institutions and implement policies that are informed by liberal ideals, principles, and sensibility. Those institutions and policies have been different from one era to the next because the organizational possibilities have been different. In the pre-industrial agricultural age institutions were small and society decentralized because those were the limits of what could be done. With industrialization came the invention of new organizational models which made it possible for institutions to become big, and every institution that could get big, got big. And people at that time were seeking, in the words of Ellis Hawley in his book “The Great War and the Search for a Modern Order,” to “reconcile the new economy and organizational revolution with the nation’s liberal heritage.” We too are in the midst of an organizational revolution and our task is to reconcile that revolution with America’s liberal heritage.
The organizational revolution of industrialization led to the establishment of programs in business administration which in turn inspired programs in public administration, both of which sought to train the people who would manage the new organizations and would lead the way into the new era. Today what we are seeing is the creation of programs like Jeff Cornwall’s Center for Entrepreneurship at Belmont University and the effort by Jeff Jarvis to create a master’s in entrepreneurial journalism at CUNY.
In this new era, the entrepreneur becomes the exemplary figure who embodies the era’s values and sensibilities as in earlier eras it was the white collar technocrat/blue collar factory worker and the yeoman farmer/pioneer.
Thank you, Professor Mead, for your thought provoking essays. I always find you an entertaining and insightful read.
I have one quibble with you, or perhaps I’m just missing something. You say in your essay “the high tariffs helped attract tens of millions of immigrants” and I do not think that assertion is supported by your other arguments. Open borders and, especially in relative terms, opportunity for a free and prosperous life may have driven millions to our shores, but I fail to understand why any prospective immigrant would care about taxes on imports. What am I missing?
Thank you again for your essays, I enjoy them greatly.
Allow me to add my voice to the chorus agreeing with WigWag. The information revolution is the Next Big Thing, or rather, it is the current Big Thing. Like the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions before it, it is and will continue to drastically alter the conditions of human life. How we adapt to it is going to determine our quality of life in the future. Americans are adapting rather well: We revel in the proletarian culture the rise of the internet has enabled. The ability of any regular person to share their art and feelings with the entire world has enabled the vulgar, non-elite culture regular Americans have always embraced to thrive on a level never before seen.
However, this is only the first step. As arts and culture, as trade and finance, as every aspect of our lives is dis-inter-mediated and brought directly into the hands of the common individual, one aspect remains very mediated and very distant: The public one. The res publica, the commonweal, the set of interests we all share. Those actions and events which un-avoidably effect us all, are still governed by a distant, alienated elite. The next step in dis-inter-mediation is to dis-intermediate the relationship between the individual and state. Rather than having our relations with the law managed, inefficiently and dishonestly, by a far away elite in Washington, Albany, or Sacramento, we need to bring the management of the public object right back home to where every American citizen can truly have an actual say again, rather than simply being one more vote amongst millions.
We need to decentralize, not only power, but authority. The heart and essence of liberalism has always been the moral autonomy of the individual. I am the best equipped to make decisions about the course of my own life. No one else. I am the only one who can understand and effect membership in different communities and organizations that will benefit me.
If each next step in the evolution of American liberalism borrows from and improves upon the past, than we need to look more heavily at the public structures of liberalism 1.0 and 2.0. If we can take the social conscience of liberalism 4.0, the idea that all races, sexes, gender-identities, sexual-orientations, and other kinds of individual identity are equal, and combine it with the civic conscience of liberalism 1.0 and 2.0 that government is best accomplished as close to and as much by the governed as possible, than the statutory, de jure freedom of liberalism 3.0 will emerge naturally.
To work best, to carry the banner of liberal thought into the future, and to be the best hope and guiding light of mankind that liberalism always has aspired to be, liberalism 5.0 needs to take the best from each of the previous versions and combine them into a new, greater whole.
Two cheers for the observations on disintermediation, but I’ll hold the last one in reserve until artists w/out record companies or studios or networks for mass audience capture and content distribution begin to make more than a part time paycheck. If that. Technology allows for interesting possibilities in entertainment and other fields, but no one has offered a reliable or repeatable model as yet.
“but I’ll hold the last one in reserve until artists w/out record companies or studios or networks for mass audience capture and content distribution begin to make more than a part time paycheck”
It’s not up to someone else to provide artists with a “reliable or repeatable model,” it’s up to the artists to create it themselves. That is the responsibility that comes with increasing individual empowerment. One of the ideas behind the entrepreneurial journalism program Jarvis is creating is that the wall between reporters and the business side of running a news organization is a feature of the old era. Today journalists need to have the business skills needed to run their own businesses so that they can innovate the next generation of news organizations. The same thing is needed for artists. Artists need to acquire the business skills that will make it possible for them to invent the “reliable and repeatable model.”
Like the thought ,but if people are really sure what they want then all the problem will be solved from earth, people always desire only never try to commit or devote to god then all the desire will gone away.
I agree with Dr. Mead’s hierarchy, but less as an intellectual ascent on each point than something the whole captures as viscerally American, it’s in our DNA. Outside of the state capitalists, public sector unionists welfare state dependents and cadre of blue liberal elites, academics and activists in the media, judiciary, government or government funded enterprises, who all feed at the public trough, most of us are imprinted with this hierarchy.
As a “3.0” disciple, I am not naive to the difficulties that will attend the rollback of “4.0” nevertheless 4.0 feels like a bad rash or in keeping with the metaphor, like fatally flawed bad code. You can’t get to 5.0 from 4.0, you’ve got to build anew from 3.0.
The challenges of rebooting to 3.0 have less to do with the specifics of the basis of the economy, e.g., agrarian vs industrial or service, it has more to do with culture and an infected set of mores that must be exposed to air and sunlight.
Sorry, Mr. Mead, you have confused Liberalism 4.0 with Progressivism. This was easy to do, because they resided in the same political party and influenced each other.
Progressivism is an American form of mild Fascism. Our decline as a country is due to the fact that no form of collectivism or authoritarianism works.
No form of Liberalism 5.0 is possible without taking what was vital about the previous forms of Liberalism and updating it to a post industrial world.