Brad, Oskar, Noam

Seth Ackerman SAckerman at
Fri Mar 19 11:32:25 PST 1999

Brad DeLong wrote:

<<First, I want to take strong, strong exception to the claim that something going on in the real world isn't worth noting because it is "on a lower level of abstraction." That road leads to the claim that much of what is isn't really real because only the rational is real, and to Jean-Paul Sartre's declaration that people shouldn't talk about the GULAG because it would only confuse the workers.

It is bad politics, it is immoral politics, to say that our task is only to make sure that the right shadows are cast on the walls of the cave so that those in darkness will react appropriately. Instead, we should be aiming to raise the level of the debate: to help people walk outside into the light.>>


You're absolutely right to take exception to that claim. But that's not what I was trying to claim. What I meant is that in a 700-word commentary detailing the opposition between Lafontaine and the "liberals,", Chomsky can be forgiven for not exploring all the short-term, coincidental, tactical agreements between the two sides.

This is, I think, a basic principal of scientific description. It's called making simplifying assumptions. (Economists do it all the time, probably too much.) There is nothing wrong with saying that -- all things being equal -- a feather and a ball bearing released at the same time will reach the ground at the same time, even if that account leaves out the effect of air resistance. You go back and add in the complicating details later.


Brad DeLong wrote:

<<Second, I don't think that it raises the level of the debate for Noam Chomsky or Seth Akerman to claim that Bob Rubin is part of a "monolithic opposition" to Oskar Lafontaine. "Monolithic" = single-block-of-stone-without-cracks-fissures-or-joints, after all.

<<...Against this backdrop, the differences between liberal democrats and social democrats are really quite minor: differences between what means are appropriate to achieve common ends, and differences between what ends commonly-accepted means will lead to in two generations or so.>>


To say that Lafontaine and Rubin share similar goals because they both want "lower" interest rates is false. After all, Jude Wanniski and Jack Kemp want lower interest rates, too. That doesn't make them Social Democrats.

In William Greider's book ("One World Ready Or Not") he visits Thomas Mayer, Goldman Sachs' man in Frankfurt, at the trading floor. Mayer says that the janitors sweeping up the floors around him need lower wages. The traders at the trading desks -- they don't need lower wages.

That sounds ugly, but that's the U.S. Treasury's prescription for Germany. Period. Flexible labor markets to reduce real wages, that'll do the trick to create jobs.

Oskar Lafontaine is against that. He is for precisely the opposite. Keep the high wages, but aggressively expand aggregate demand to raise employment. That is a pretty fundamental difference, not only in terms of policy, but of values.

By the way, you may think it's just a coincidence that Goldman Sachs is for policies that serve its class interests while the workers in the German SPD are for opposite policies that serve their class interests. But I think there is some kind of direct relationship. Even if Rubin is a "liberal democrat."


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