Julian Sanchez header image 2

photos by Lara Shipley

Orwell in Bailoutland

December 15th, 2008 · 27 Comments

Oh, FireDogLake:

Conservative ideologues looking to punish workers and the American middle class for auto industry failures are driven by an authoritarian worldview George Lakoff calls the strict parent model.

Senate Republicans see their opposition to the rescue of Detroit as whipping the children. They are not that different from the failed father who thinks his follies can be overcome by beating the wife and kids. Politically, they seek to avoid responsibility for the nation’s economic woes. It’s not the strict authority who’s at fault. It’s the misbehaving children. Conservatives think they must take away the keys to the car.

Did we all follow that one? Failing to funnel billions to a failing business is a form of authoritarian punishment. As an alternative, we’re offered the proposition that we “want affordable, safe, fuel-efficient, environmentally sound cars built by committed workers who are rewarded for undertaking this task on our behalf.”  I think it’s a lot more revealing to contemplate the sort of mindset that insists on seeing every economic outcome as a political “reward” or “punishment.”

This whole familial frame seems to amount to an inverted Gospel of Wealth: Where the 19th century claimed that financial success was a reflection of moral worth, the function of public policy in the 21st century will be to create that symmetry.  The only question is whether workers in a particular industry are naughty children who need to be sent to the corner for a time-out, or well-behaved children who should get a gold sticker for effort.  This is, as I hope goes without saying, a pretty authoritarian frame on either side.  It also seems like a manifestly awful way to make economic policy choices. Barring some marvelous Lebnizian coincidence, the answers to questions about the moral desert of workers in particular sectors are unlikely to consistently match the answers to quesitons about what’s in the long-term interest of the economy as a whole.

Tags: Economics · Language and Literature · Markets · Moral Philosophy


       

 

27 responses so far ↓

  • 1 NutellaonToast // Dec 15, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    I believe those arguments are made in the context of certain memos that made it seem as if Republicans were withholding funding SOLELY to strike at the power of the unions.

    Also, the provisions for certain actionable items may be “authoritarian” but, you might want to try of to think of an explanation that doesn’t just conveniently back your predisposition. It seems just as likely to me that it’s a result of blowback from the provisionless funds provided to the financial industry which many people feel are not being spend to do what they were intended.

    But, yea, you’re right. The people that want the workers not to get fucked while saving a crucial American industry during a time of unprecedented economic crisis are the authoritarians. The better idea is surely to create a flood of newly unemployed in one of the worst job markets on record. The latter isn’t dogmatism at all. You’re enlightened, sir.

  • 2 Travis // Dec 15, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    Maybe Senate Republicans are primarily opposed to the bailout as a way to fuck the unions.

    Maybe Glenn Smith is right, and they see themselves as stern parents who are just punishing disobedient children perceived failures.

    Even so, his alternative makes no sense. The American auto industry is not a collective endeavor of the whole society with the goal of making fuel efficient transportation.
    It is a profit driven industry of which the primary beneficiaries are shareholders and executives. As such, the primary beneficiaries of the auto bailout are ALSO the executives and shareholders.

    Frankly, it just doesn’t make sense to keep giving money to the non productive segment of the auto industry. If your worried about the workers it makes more sense to increase unemployment benefits and offer job retraining. If your worried about fuel efficient transportation it makes more sense to invest in public transit projects, and if your specifically worried about fuel efficient cars, you can buy a Prius.

    Smith and Lakoff might not like the fact that American industry is dominated by corporate capitalism, but pretending we’re all one big family doesn’t change the underlying truth.

  • 3 On Authority, Philosophical and Cognitive — The Opposite of Jim Bunning // Dec 15, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    […] a pretty interesting discussion rumbling around the blogosphere, mostly between Glenn Smith and Julian Sanchez with a few words thrown in from Megan […]

  • 4 Jeremy Pober // Dec 15, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    Julian,
    I think Smith’s post is pretty incoherent and therefore tough to attack. He seems to be supporting two mutually exclusive theses about authority:

    1) The GOP uses authoritarianism as a political philosophy from which to derive policy.

    This claim is not only factually incorrect; if it were correct, all of your points would be right on and thus diminish its value.

    However, sometimes Smith seems to be claiming

    2) There is some innate cognitive concept related to parental authority that, when discussed, carries emotional weight that causes voters to sway their opinion toward this putative authority.

    I can’t emphasize enough how different this point is than his first. They’re both bad things, just different.

    Using authoritarian principles to dictate policy is one thing, rhetorically capitalizing on innate concepts related to “authority” is another.

    On this latter point I’m not sure if the playing field is so equal between the right and the left.

    As usual, full rant here.

  • 5 D Johnston // Dec 15, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    Jeremy: Smith is referring to the nurturing parent v. strict father model created by George Lakoff. It has nothing to with “emotional weight,” it’s about world views. The strict father world view holds that people need a strong hand to command them, lest they go astray. In particular, Smith is saying that the strict father world view is leading the Republicans to believe that the problem is those damn unions, and if we punish them enough they’ll fall back in line and everything will be great again.

    This leads into the alternate world-view, the nurturing parent, which is employed by Smith. The idea is to guide the auto industry into a healthier state. And yes, Travis, that includes more fuel-efficient cars, which have been preferred by consumers for quite a few years now. The industry has only stayed afloat by circumventing capitalism, getting tax breaks on cars that fewer and fewer people want to buy.

  • 6 Instapundit » Blog Archive » JULIAN SANCHEZ: Orwell in Bailoutland. “This whole familial frame seems to amount to an inverted G… // Dec 16, 2008 at 12:19 am

    […] SANCHEZ: Orwell in Bailoutland. “This whole familial frame seems to amount to an inverted Gospel of Wealth: Where the 19th […]

  • 7 Shannon Love // Dec 16, 2008 at 12:44 am

    I think Republicans want to reform the unions because they see them as organizations who institutions that seek to suppress productivity, innovation and cost effectiveness. I don’t think we have to dig any deeper than that.

    Leftist always try to psychoanalyze their opponents when they can’t answer their argument. It goes all the way back to Marx. Its easier to try to cast the argument against unions in terms of irrational emotion than it is to refute the actual points under debate.

  • 8 Jeremy Pober // Dec 16, 2008 at 1:15 am

    @D Johnston
    In the referred piece, the author writes:

    As Lakoff says, these models are wired into our brains. They are not bodiless, weightless, free-floating ideas we can take or leave. John Dewey recognized them as habits of thinking. When Republicans carefully frame issues around blame, punishment and authority, their frames are understood. Even people who consider themselves liberal democrats can sometimes be persuaded with these frames, since, as I said, they are likely to use the strict model in some part of their lives.

    Like I say in my post that is tracked back to here, there are two unrelated ways of conceiving what Lakoff’s two themes, as philosophical principles (in which case Julian is right and I’m wrong) or as semi-innate cognitive concepts. I’m referring to the latter when I talk about the “emotional weight” attached to a concept. That concepts can be wired in such a way to activate emotional affects is a fact about cognitive science, not Lakoff’s ideology per se.

    @Shannon Love: You might be right as to why libertarians dislike unions, but I think you’re attributing too much to mainstream right-wing thought. Unions are a democratic constituency and thus deserve no bone from the GOP in their view, plain and simple. This isn’t psychoanalysis, it’s the simple imputation of the belief that has the most explanatory power.

  • 9 Hanoi Paris Hilton // Dec 16, 2008 at 1:22 am

    Yo, Travis…

    N.B., “your” = possessive of second person s./pl/ “you”

    “you’re = accepted contraction of “you are”.

    Got that? Good!

  • 10 Yehudit // Dec 16, 2008 at 3:03 am

    NutellaonToast, why should your and my tax dollars go to insuring that UAW workers continue to make $20 more/hr than other auto workers in the US? I can think of much better uses for my tax dollars, can’t you? Anyway, withholding the bailout money doesn’t throw them out of work. Their refusal to allow their contracts to be revised will throw them out of work. Their insistence on being paid $70/hr rather than $50/hr (inc all benefits) will ensure they are paid $0/hr. unless of course, Congress forces us to give them welfare. Job retraining, unemployment benefits – those are in support of transitioning these workers to productive employment, and have a finite time span.

    This has nothing to do with “punishment” “reward” and different parenting styles.

  • 11 Oolon_Colluphid_Dem // Dec 16, 2008 at 3:04 am

    “The only question is whether workers in a particular industry are naughty children who need to be sent to the corner for a time-out, or well-behaved children who should get a gold sticker for effort.”

    Or option C, that CEOs are naughty children bullying the well-behaved workers.

    “Barring some marvelous Lebnizian coincidence, the answers to questions about the moral desert of workers in particular sectors are unlikely to consistently match the answers to quesitons about what’s in the long-term interest of the economy as a whole.”

    Careful there. That choice of words begs the question, “does this mean you favor economic welfare above moral desert”?

  • 12 bc // Dec 16, 2008 at 3:19 am

    By analogy, imagine an ocean full of fish to be our economy. The water level keeps falling and fish start dying. The healthy fish say,”The dying fish were weak, and lazy”. Notwithstanding that this is true, the real problem is the falling water level. If not halted, all the fish will die, it’s just starting with the weakest. The healthy can argue over the morality of saving the weak fish, but this is a distraction from the real problem which unfortunately may have no solution.

  • 13 Oolon_Colluphid_Dem // Dec 16, 2008 at 3:26 am

    By the way, the unions are not intransigent:
    http://emptywheel.firedoglake.com/2008/11/15/what-the-ap-left-out-about-the-uaw/

  • 14 Oolon_Colluphid_Dem // Dec 16, 2008 at 3:28 am

    http://emptywheel.firedoglake.com/2008/11/15/what-the-ap-left-out-about-the-uaw/

    From the link:
    In its contract last year, the UAW made painful concessions, adopting a two-tier wage structure, such that new employees make just $12 to $15 an hour. The move is projected to bring the American manufacturers in line with their Japanese rivals’ non-union labor costs in the near future.

    In addition, the union has taken responsibility for providing retiree healthcare, thereby eliminating one of the last remaining competitive disadvantages for the American manufacturers’ unionized workforce as compared to their Japanese rivals.

    With these agreements, the UAW has managed to save jobs, while still providing the superior labor force that leads most segments in terms of the most efficient plants measured in hours per vehicle.

    The UAW’s workers have made deep concessions to ensure American-owned auto industry remains competitive with its foreign competitors. Now that the American-owned manufacturers have eliminated some of the structural disadvantages that gave foreign competitors a market advantage, it would be a terrible waste for its country not to do what’s necessary to sustain American manufacturing though this tough financial period.

    ———
    All information sourced in the link.

  • 15 Sigfried // Dec 16, 2008 at 3:56 am

    Jeremy,
    The Republicans I know think more in line with Shannon’s thoughts than your idea that it’s only a party matter. They see lost productivity and lost profits and rules that stop worker x from performing action y if it’s not specified for him to do so. Now the GOP senators likely do view it from the political viewpoint- but believe it or not, many Republican voters have clearer and sharper minds than their representatives do.

  • 16 Julian Sanchez // Dec 16, 2008 at 5:54 am

    OCD-
    That’s not what “begs the question” means.

  • 17 Mike // Dec 16, 2008 at 10:43 am

    What annoys me the most about this mini-argument is the fact that the Left refuses to acknowledge the fact that there is a straight-up quid pro quo going on. The UAW is a Democratic party constituency that funnels millions of workers union dues into Dem pols pockets; in return they get this kind of heavy handed intervention on their behalf.

    Unions BUY money and protection from the Dem party, and the rest of us are supposed to think this is some sort of wonderful, socially redeeming arrangement. Why? Am I the only one who sees how this will lead inevitably to more and more corruption?

    And what about the millions and millions of small businesses? Who protects them? Why do their resources (i.e., taxes) get taken away to subsidize economically unsustainable companies like GM? Oh, that’s right, because they didn’t give enough money to the right people to matter. What a lovely system you folks on the Left are building for us! A regular workers paradise. (I just want to remind you that if Bush was doing this to save the oil companies you would have NO problem understanding my argument.)

  • 18 Subotai // Dec 16, 2008 at 11:04 am

    “certain memos that made it seem as if Republicans were withholding funding SOLELY to strike at the power of the unions”

    The moonbats are out in force with yet another crazy conspiracy theory.

  • 19 Subotai // Dec 16, 2008 at 11:08 am

    “Unions are a democratic constituency and thus deserve no bone from the GOP in their view, plain and simple.”

    And what is the argument that the GOP should funnel money to what you claim is a Democeatic constituency? Can I expect that the Dems will start to provide a few billion for the Heritage Foundation?

  • 20 Subotai // Dec 16, 2008 at 11:11 am

    “When Republicans carefully frame issues around blame, punishment and authority, their frames are understood. Even people who consider themselves liberal democrats can sometimes be persuaded with these frames”

    Even people who consider themsleves liberal Democrats!

    The liberal Democrats seem vastly more prone to thinking in these terms than anybody else in the country.

  • 21 Gene44 // Dec 16, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Here we go again with the liberal left trying to justify the rape of the American taxpayers. What companies in history have received bailouts from the American taxpayers – Chrysler when Ioccoa went to Congress and borrowed $1 billion. The UAW saw the hand writing on the wall of lower the wages until the company returned to profits or be without work. This is the same thing that the Republican Senators stated and this time the UAW balked and loss the vote. Negotiations for long term benefits were outweighed by the fact that the UAW has the Democrats on their side along with the new President who will jump to their demands.

    What other companies are to be bailed out next? Where will the money come from other than the taxpayers. It is extremely difficult to give a tax cut as promised while pouring billions into companies that have failed to produce a product that people want and will purchase. Are we going to bail out Mircosoft when their sales go down?

    Are we going to bail out Joe the Plumber, Joe the Carpenter, Joe the tax accountant, Joe the insurance salesman? Just where does the Bail Out End?

  • 22 Tim // Dec 16, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    The American auto manufacturers have been arcing toward failure for quite sometime now, as most casual observers have noticed. Management is clearly bears significant responsibility, even beyond their extreme negligence in agreeing to unsustainable, uncompetitive, unproductive labor union contracts to make shoddy, second-rate vehicles. The unions, in turn, have confused their successful industry-killing negotiations for overcompensation for second-rate work for a taxpayer subsidized birth-right.

    Republican Senators know this.

    Republican Senators also know it is also why 61% of poll respondents oppose the taxpayer subsidy of a failing industry and its labor union.

    Liberals may find psychological relief in fantasizing Republican opposition is nothing more than a reflexive paternal authoritarian reaction to a Democrat special interest, but that would be another misjudgment.

    The proposed bailout does nothing to foster long-term economic viability for the American auto industry. Only first class morons and elected Democrats thinks Congress can successfully re-engineer the American auto industry. The bailout instead retards the changes necessary for long-term viability, increases the chances for failure, and sends taxpayers the bill. This is why we have bankruptcy laws in the US.

    If you want a sustainable domestic auto industry, that’s the direction in which to go.

  • 23 CleanthesBrule // Dec 16, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    Where does the bailout money come from? Either taxes or inflation. If taxes, then some authority forces people to pay. This is apodictically authoritarian.
    If inflation, then the government forces people to use its currency by virtue of its monopoly on money supply. The government obtains this monopoly by virtue of the police power. This, too, is the definition of authoritarian. Granting a special favor to one of many hurting industry because of that particular industry’s political connections is abuse. Pernicious abuse.

  • 24 Kent // Dec 16, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    Let’s get our facts straight. US auto industry has 240,000 direct employees and 5M indirect employees. 2M provided with health care. Get this! 775,000 retirees & spouses with benefits – 3 times the number of direct employees. How many retirees are the foreign companies supporting? US Auto spends $12Bn on R&D and $156 Bn to the US supply chain. What happens to all these people if the US auto industry disappears?
    Saying US auto is unproductive and makes shoddy vehicles is just untrue. The US industry suffers from a poor public image but makes cars as good or better than transplants. For example, Chevy Malibu and Ford Fusion scored higher than Honda Accord and Toyota Camry in a JD Power survey!! Saying US auto is not making vehicles people want is unfair. Google QFD, a tool the auto industry has been using for years. The US consumer is very fickle and uninformed. Why is one brand of sneaker in and another not? The same reason people like one brand of car over another. Marketing and public perception!
    Why was a Prius once selling for thousands over sticker price and now there are a dozen sitting unsold at a local dealer?
    We have sent most of our manufacturing jobs overseas because we all want our jobs to be of high value, but the jobs of those who make the products we want worth very little. Just like the service industry, high pay for us and minimum wage for those who serve us. The auto industry is one of the last great manufacturing industries in the USA. The loss of the US auto industry and its supporting industries would just another nail in the coffin of the good old USA. Be an American, buy American!

  • 25 Joe R. // Dec 18, 2008 at 1:03 am

    “Careful there. That choice of words begs the question, ‘does this mean you favor economic welfare above moral desert’?”

    Aside from Julian’s correct observation about the meaning of question begging, I have a question in response to you: WHOSE morals? Yours? Mine? Julian’s? Barack Obama’s? An Alabama auto worker’s?

  • 26 dhex // Dec 19, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    “I think Republicans want to reform the unions because they see them as organizations who institutions that seek to suppress productivity, innovation and cost effectiveness.”

    shannon: i have a simpler explanation: they’re republicans. unions are a democratic support structure. therefore they attack them.

    giving them principles and an ideological framework beyond “fuck everyone who isn’t us” is like giving democrats a framework beyond “fuck everyone who isn’t us.” it is foolish.

    kent: “buy american”? can someone stop this fucking loop of “gung ho!” already? the movie was not that funny to begin with, and the remake is thus far horrendous.

  • 27 Libertarian Girl // Dec 23, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Unions may be a “Democratic support structure” and therefore a target for Republicans, but auto unions hurt all unions, because auto unions are prime evidence showing what happens when unions run amok.

    My uncle worked for GM before he died. He had a high school education and his job required no education. My mother worked for years to put herself through nursing school at the same time, after which she made less than half what he did. She wondered why she bothered sometimes when she saw how much he was making. She worked at a hospital, and she has great health insurance, but his beat anything you’ve ever seen. No copays, ever, no premiums, ever, no payments for your health, ever.

    When he died, his 16-year-old daughter would have gotten his full salary until she was 25, if she hadn’t gotten married. Honestly, that’s madness. A few years would be a very nice gift, but 10 years of a full salary still paid for a dead worker (and paid to a teenager who inevitably wasted it on vacations and cars and luxury apartments)? Dead police officers’ families and military families don’t get that kind of bonus. My boyfriend’s grandfather was the CEO of a company, and I don’t think his family would have gotten that kind of death benefit if he’d died then. He had to buy his own life insurance like anyone else.

    The auto unions just took too much, which is not the only cause of, but a contributing factor, to their companies failing.

Leave a Comment