When Americans tune inward, what do they hear in “globalizing” times? All too often that “the market” is the solution—whatever the trouble. It’s reminiscent of bad Marxism. Remember the advanced theorists who insisted: nationalize the means of production, all problems dissolve—even those with little to do with production?
Smarter people on the left always abjured such nostrums, even accepting that markets could be useful. Just not as life’s moral masters. It’s still a cogent conviction. Yet now it must be pressed against different quarters, where markets are deemed to be patriotic, consumerism interchangeable with citizenship, and social pain the fault of anyone enduring it. Such views are contested in the “Arguing America” section of this issue of Dissent. Here are three examples.
Proponents of school vouchers say, “Let parents choose their children’s education.” Sounds simple. But then Amy Gutmann poses some questions: What terms should shape education policy—those of consumers on the market or those of public purpose and democratic citizenship? Should we subsidize private schools that practice “racial, religious or gender” discrimination? Will vouchers secure good schools for all the poor or equal public funding of private and public schools, effectively subsidizing the well-to-do? If it is unfair for poor kids to suffer bad schools, is it fair for them to suffer “bad neighborhoods” because their parents lack decent-paying work with child care and health insurance? Which leads to Gutmann’s weightier query: are troubled schools the result of “public control,” supposedly remedied by privatization, or of politics, calling out for serious reform?
Iris Young scrutinizes rhetorical justifications of America’s welfare reform. Voucher-talk may be to education what “self-sufficiency” has apparently become to “workfare.” Workfare aimed to make the poor “self-sufficient,” but such language, Young contends, obstructs “argument about the meaning of autonomy and work.” It makes “meaningful work” an empty phrase. And “self-sufficiency” is a cruel joke absent job security, decent work conditions, and fair benefits. (But why want such things if you are a budding rugged individual?)
We learn from Ken Conca that George W. Bush, candidate of the party of “values,” likens environmental regulations to “the taking of private property.” Although Al Gore feels “the Earth’s pain,” he often leans toward “market environmentalism,” especially when corporate interests abroad are concerned. The Earth and her friends had best be vigilant—and vocal—when it comes to “Compassionate Conservatives” and “New Democrats.” n “Liberty without equality is a name of noble sound and squalid result,” L.T. Hobhouse wrote. But some leftists deduced, disastrously, that egalitarianism resolves all questions of political liberty. For “egalitarianism” ...
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