"We've gotta move these disgruntled lib-ruhls. We've gotta dupe 'em for Hill-ar-y."
Like more readers than will perhaps confess it, your humble author likes to sing in the shower. The high-pressure whoosh of water droplets through tiny holes creates a competing, smothering sound better suited than most other instruments to accompany a voice of my range and timbre--and besides, the bathroom is the place traditionally reserved for intimate, shameful acts one refrains from inflicting on the delicate sensibilities of evolved fellow humans. (If only Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton had the human decency to confine the fetid, nauseating spectacle of their competing presidential ambitions to the harmless intimacy of their respective privies!)
But, as should be evident, my strained attempts to achieve vocal music lack credibility even with me. Perhaps as a result, not just the delivering voice, but the very lyrics themselves, of my aquatic singing performances inevitably drift toward parody. One wonders if Weird Al Yankovic got his start this way.
In any case, given my current preoccupations as co-founder of Pitchforks Against Plutocracy, it's hardly surprising my parodic lyrical bent should turn toward politics. And it just so happens I'd recently read of a politically significant encounter that struck me as living parody: between one of my greatest intellectual heroes, Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, and my political bête noire--a woman I instinctively imagine as the prostitute of Babylon--Hillary Clinton.
Seems Hillary thought it would raise her populist creds if she sought economic policy advice from perhaps the best friend economic populists ever had: a globally respected highbrow-of-highbrows economist who has nonetheless remained a "man of the people" and who in fact entered the economics profession from a desire to improve the people's lot. A man who, like his fellow Nobel laureate and sometime collaborator Amartya Sen, yokes an ability to stand cerebrum-to-cerebrum with just about any brainiac economist on the planet with a genuine concern for the downtrodden and the common good. It's hardly surprising that Stiglitz and Sen were jointly handpicked by the French government to lead team of economics researchers assembled to devise a more relevant measure of economic well-being than the gross domestic product (GDP).
Now, any aspiring populist or highbrow should beware of the dangers of hero worship. Populists should be keenly aware how the prone the talented--especially in our society--are to corruption by money, and highbrows equally aware of how apt reputed experts--especially in a contentious field like economics--are to contradict one another or to simply get things wrong. But it's precisely the appearance of populist heavyweights like Stiglitz and Sen in the field of economics--a field whose prevailing ideas have frequently justified oppressive social policy--that creates a temptation to hero worship from sheer gratitude. For non-specialist progressive political activists, as for those rare politicians authentically seeking the common good, they (like top-notch climate scientists) provide intellectual assurance our pet social goals--often arrived at on moral or intuitive grounds--can withstand the most rigorous specialist scrutiny. For activists on economic issues--where a more libertarian, self-seeking view of economic rationality (a la Milton Friedman) is apt to prevail in the halls of power--intellectual-powerhouse populists like Stiglitz and Sen are literally a godsend.
And the truth seems to be that in academic economics, as in other recent academic social science, the populists are winning. Thus, progressive activists can confidently cite the globally respected research on economic inequality of Thomas Piketty, just as they can happily quote its political-inequality analogue in the work of Ivy League social scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page. Perhaps no one should be surprised to see the timeless Biblical adage "The love of money is the root of all evil" vindicated by careful empirical research, but the key point is that, even in intellectual circles where religion is in disrepute, a lot of its moral framework has withstood careful scrutiny. Societies that tolerate vast inequalities in wealth and political power tend to become oppressive and fall apart. Or, as Naomi Klein points out, are impotent to deal with global environmental emergencies like climate change. Our ruling political ideas, formed under the predominant spell of social thinking much more like Friedman's, have lagged pathetically behind our populist-vindicating social science.
So, with academia singing a populist tune--and movements like Occupy Wall Street having driven it up the charts--even arch-dynast presidential candidates like Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton must learn to a hum a few bars. Now for ideological reasons (like, say, Republicans' commitment to trickle-down economics), Jeb consulting with a populist-economics Meistersinger like Joseph Stiglitz is strictly verboten. But being a Democrat and therefore theoretically supportive of economic populism, Hillary faces no such constraint. Provided, of course, she doesn't take Meister Stiglitz seriously enough to learn anything more than a few notes of a plain-folk-pleasing melody--and, of course, to gain favorable press for having consulted with such a progressive economic icon. For if prospective president Hillary were to take Meister Stiglitz seriously and program her economic policy music according to his score, well, that's one concert her wealthy Wall Street patrons are pretty sure not to finance. Liberal as they might be on social issues, one suspects their "smart money" might back Jeb's concert instead.
Fortunately, given her own history and preferences, they need have little worry about Meister Stiglitz changing Hillary's tune. One imagines her a restive pupil, merely tolerating his tutelage because it brings good press; in fact, knowing her master's a principled economic populist outspokenly opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it's easy to imagine the form Hillary's student rebellion might take. To paraphrase the ending chorus of the Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing" that opened this article, one can imagine Hillary, as the notes of Stiglitz's economic melody float harmlessly past her ears, maliciously, repeatedly singing beneath her breath, "I want my, I want my, I want my ... TPP."
Or, more to the point--and putting another part of my morning-shower parody in Hillary's mouth: "Talked to Stiglitz for nothing, got good press for free."
If you feel, as we at Pitchforks Against Plutocracy do, that Hillary should not be getting credit for economic populism while sneakily, cravenly concealing her ardent embrace of the bludgeoning of populism known as TPP, please support our initiative. Who better to call out Clinton for her TPP support than Democrats' foremost voice of populism--and leading TPP critic--Elizabeth Warren? Please contact Warren, insisting that she demand Clinton, as the price of her own continued support, express opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If Warren won't use her populist leverage with Clinton now--when presidential aspirant Clinton most needs her support--what effect can she possibly have when Clinton holds our nation's highest office?
Here are Warren's contact coordinates:
Phone: (202) 224-4543 (Washington); (617) 565-3170; (Boston) (413) 788-2690 (Springfield)