After the New York primary, which was both another testament to the strength of Generation Sanders—exit polls showed him with majorities of voters under forty-five and, as usual, big wins among the youngest—and a confirmation of Clinton’s tactical advantages this year, it’s time to take stock of what this rising politics might stand for, beyond the Sanders campaign. So here’s a start: Eleven Theses for the Bernie Generation.
1. The Economy is About Power
If you studied economics anytime from the Reagan years forward, you learned that it’s all about efficiency. Self-interested parties bargain for their personal benefit, and the invisible hand of the market makes everyone better off. This was always a thinner reed than its scientific-sounding apparatus suggested.
But now we are squarely back in a world many of us had known only through black-and-white photographs, of strikes and marches, clashes between workers and bosses. Our world is one in which the invisible hand is clearly not doing its job—one in need of more directed and democratic control. A few companies control large shares of their industries, and their big profits and pressure on suppliers and consumers reflect their power to set the terms for everyone. A few banks are too big to fail and set the terms of bailout and regulation. If workers want a living wage, they have to fight for it, in the workplace and in politics, in the Fight for 15 and in unionization drives. That’s why it’s so important to see Sanders and down-ballot candidates like New York’s Congressional District 19 Democrat Zephyr Teachout on the picket line: economic policy is about the struggle for power.
2. Expertise Is Not Legitimacy
The flap over whether Clinton is “qualified” to be president was unfortunately swept into the tactical politics of the New York primary. The real question, buried in accusation and counter-accusation, was what it means to be qualified to govern. The Democrats make a fetish of training and expertise. They are consummately the party of experts, economics PhDs and Yale Law School graduates. They are the party of meritocrats who do their homework—not just the required reading, but the recommended as well.
This is a good thing, as far as it goes, but our party of experts often forget that expertise is a tool. It helps you to get where you want to go. Politics is also about goals and worldviews. It isn’t enough to be smart and trained. The first question for politicians is the old union question: which side are you on?
3. You’re Allowed to Want Economic Security
If you’re in your early forties or younger, you’ve spent your whole life hearing about the value of “disruption,” the need for “flexibility” and “reinvention,” the whole Silicon Valley/venture capital/management consultant mantra. But, while this is very nice if you’re one of the lucky few who can treat economic ups and downs as the backdrop of a first-person-shooter video game, for most people, “disruption” is a nightmare.
For much of the twentieth century, mainstream liberal economists understood that security—whether in a union, in job tenure, or in guaranteed health care and other safety nets—was a widespread and perfectly legitimate goal. In fact, it was the first thing anyone should want from an economy, because it was the precondition to feeling—and being—safe enough to go on and take risks, or just enjoy life. We need to give renewed meaning to this argument. For decades, economic security has been derided as the goal of the weak, social sponges who can’t handle lifelong competition. Once again, meritocrats, who excel at a certain kind of competition, have aligned themselves with investors, who profit from it, in advancing the idea that all-in competition makes a good economy. We need to reject the moralism of competition and the charisma of disruption, and say it is right and good to want to be safe.
4. You Are More than Human Capital
A person’s worth is not what they can earn, and “return on investment” is the wrong way to think about living, just as “networking” is the wrong way to think about relationships. These ways of valuing ourselves are cultural and psychic distortions, in which a market culture colonizes the minds of the people living under it. But they are not just mistakes or spiritual failings: they are imposed on us by all-in, all-pervading competition and insecurity. Part of the point of an economy of safety is to let people remember what else and who else they are.
This is part of the meaning of “free college.” It’s about treating learning and growth as part of the purpose of life, something an economy exists to support, not an input to the economy that teaches students to talk, and think, in terms of “return on investment.” The same is true with health care. Sanders’s speech in the Vatican highlighted this, calling for “an economy that defends the common good” by guaranteeing health care and education as social rights, not commodities.
Read the other 7 Theses from Prof. Jedediah Purdy – Source: Eleven Theses for the Bernie Sanders Generation | Dissent