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From Down With Tyranny
Legal scholar, activist, and Berniecrat Zephyr Teachout shocked the NY and the country when she came close to defeating Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary for governor of New York. Now she's running for Attorney General. And she plans to sue Donald Trump over his conflict of interest as a business man. Zephyr also talks about neoliberalism, why the Dems need to be on offense, not defense, and why "it's time for a new 21st century trust-busting." (The Teachout interview starts at 1:50.)
A high-leverage bet is one that risks little for great gain with very favorable odds of success. That combination -- small risk, great reward, favorable odds -- happens almost none of the time. Either the market sets the reward appropriate to the risk (if you're risking little with favorable odds, the reward won't be much) or sets the odds appropriate to the gain (if you want a great reward with very little risk, the odds will be very much against you). In these instances, in other words, markets are generally efficient.
But at my back I always hear
Time's winge'd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
--Andrew Marvell on the climate crisis
But not always. When it looked like Chrysler Corporation would go bankrupt in the late 1970s, its bonds were so undesirable, priced so cheaply, that they paid something like 25% interest per year. If you thought it more than likely that the U.S. government would bail them out -- if you thought, contrary to the market, that the risk of bankruptcy was actually very low -- you would have bought them at a very low cost and made a lot of money.
The government indeed bailed them out -- how could it not? Chrysler was one of the "big three" American automakers, a national symbol -- and the "bet" turned a very high reward at very low cost for those who spotted the opportunity. Can you imagine making 25% per year on your money today on a company backed by the U.S. government? Opportunities like that are indeed rare and should be taken when identified.
Now apply that thinking to the political sphere, in particular to the progressive political sphere. In our first example the goal was to gain a lot of money at favorable odds with a relatively low cost. In that case the thing invested is money. In the political sphere, the parallel goal is to gain a lot of power -- control of the levers of government -- at favorable odds with a relatively low investment of time and energy. For this kind of win, it shouldn't take moving a mountain to accomplish the goal, and it shouldn't take a generation to do it.
That last point -- a fast, efficient reward relative to the energy invested -- is important if you believe like me that the nation, already pre-revolutionary in its desire to be free of the austerity forced on the increasingly poor by the impossibly rich, is near a tipping point toward outright rebellion.
(We're actually near two tipping points, if you also believe that if we don't address climate change meaningfully and now, it will too soon be too late -- and worse, everyone on the planet will know it and act accordingly. When that day comes, when people realize the fix they've been put in, the international chaos will only be contained by military action, and then only briefly.)
Time, in other words, is a commodity progressives do not have. Nor is our energy in infinite supply.
Put more specifically, progressives don't have time for a 30-year plan to take over the Democratic Party; nor do we have time to build a viable, national, well-funded third party to challenge it. Consider the effort to "change the Party" by taking over the House and Senate. Not only must masses of progressives replace well-established, well-funded New Dems and Blue Dogs, but progressives must also replace all the New Dem enablers in Democratic leadership. How long will that take, on the current trajectory?
Yes, Democrats may win the House in a 2018 wave election. But which Democrats will control the Party if they do? Even if Democrats take the House and Senate in 2019, those who bitterly fought and defeated Bernie Sanders will still run the show, even if the number of actual, Sanders-like progressives continues to increase.
This is a classic low-leverage effort relative to the time, energy and money needed to accomplish it. Not that this battle should not be engaged -- I applaud everyone who engages in it. But time is not the friend of progressive insurgence.