Obama’s Nostalgianomics

Megan McArdle on President Obama’s speech:

I think the speech made it even clearer that other speeches have that the president’s vision of the world is a lightly updated 1950s technocracy without the social conservatism, and with solar panels instead of rocket ships. Government and labor and business working in tightly controlled concert, with nice people like Obama at the reins–all the inventions coming out of massive government or corporate labs, and all the resulting products built by a heavily unionized workforce that knows no worry about the future.There are obviously a lot of problems with this vision. The first is that this is not what the fifties and sixties were actually like–the government and corporate labs sat on a lot of inventions until upstart companies developed them, and the union goodies that we now think of as typical were actually won pretty late in the game (the contracts that eventually killed GM were written in the early 1970s).

And to the extent that the fifties and sixties were actually like this, we should remember, as Max Boot points out, that this was not actually the day of the little guy. Big institutions actually had a great deal more power than they do now; it was just distributed somewhat differently–you had to worry less about big developers slapping a high-rise next to your single-family neighborhood, and a whole lot more about Robert Moses deciding he wanted to run a freeway through the spot where your house happened to be.

The military model of society–employed by both Obama, and a whole lot of 1950s good government types–was actually a kind of creepy way to live. As Boot says, “America today is far more individualistic and far more meritocratic with far less tolerance for rank prejudice and far less willingness to blindly follow the orders of rigid bureaucracies.” If you want the 1950s except without the rigid conformity and the McCarthyism, then you fundamentally misunderstand what made the 1950s tick.

Finally, there’s the fact that the 1950s ended in the 1970s. In the 1950s, American products were envied all over the world; by 1980, they were a joke. This is not some radical disconnect; it is the beginning and end of the same process. The technocratic American institutions became sclerotic agents of inertia. Bosses whose pay was capped poured their energy into building personal empires instead of personal fortunes. Unions like the UAW began making demands on their companies so heavy that even the UAW president who had negotiated these amazing pay increases began to fear that his members had lost their minds.

Full post here.

32 Responses to “Obama’s Nostalgianomics”

  • My reaction to what I’ve heard of it is that it’s populist rhetoric once again now that the campaign is on. The general population is well to the left of both political parties. It is necessary for Obama to pretend he’s some sort of social democrat, when nothing could be further from the truth.

    What we’re seeing is not an expression of the Obama vision but of campaign rhetoric.

    Take this bit about a “special department” to investigate the fraud that led to the 2008 financial crisis. Obama has had all the laws on the books and all the departments he’s ever needed to prosecute Wall St criminals, but he just refuses to do so. In fact he applies big pressure on any rogue DA’s that actually try to hold some people accountable. Then he goes in front of the nation and claims he’s really interested in these prosecutions? How can anyone take that seriously? He’s going to slap a new label on a door somewhere and pretend he’s done something. Where is his money coming from? Wall St is his top financial backer. Is he going to go after them?

    Take his rhetoric and you’d think he’d care about fighting back against corruption and standing with the little guy. Take his actions and you see what he’s really fighting. Transparency, accountability, peace. He’s prosecuted more people under the Espionage Act then all other prior presidents combined. Going after low level people for daring to expose major criminality.

    This is a total banana republic at this point. Laws do not apply to the rich and powerful. Remember, according to Human Rights Watch at least 100 people were tortured to death in US custody. No consequence for that even though it’s clearly illegal. No problem. Bush and Cheney admit to torture on national television and in books, but they know there’s no danger. On the other hand if you download a song and you are a poor person you might just go to jail.

    The sooner we learn to distinguish between rhetoric and reality the better. Megan obviously is not there yet and probably will never be.

  • ACTA Treaty.

  • Hello to all of you. I am a political blogger and post to many of the sites here in the U.S. I am also a Republican but have been, for many years a Democrat. When Barack Obama became president, I changes once I saw what he was about. I tell you these things for your own good. So many people in the U.S. are either in a state of serious denial or they just do not want to know the truth. First of all, I know that many Mexicans, whites and blacks will support Obama simple because he is black. Many others will support him because they believe he will give them everything they want. I guess those are valid reasons to the person they belong to. I do know this however, Obama is a devout Muslim and believes in Allah. He does not believe in God. He is anti-American, pro-socialist and practices the trick he learned by studying Saul Alinsky’s book on organizing a society. If you vote for Obama, you are voting for a man who is without God, a man who will give you what you want, for a short time only. The man has lied from day one and has an administration that is bent on racial divide and hate. That is the way he will re-organize society…racial hatred and division in his attempt to make the US into a marxist nation. Do not fall for the deceits of this man. Do not vote for him. You are a part of the American society and I am sure you want the very same things I and millions of other Americans want….less taxes, better chances for ourselves and our children, health and hoped for prosperity. We do not want a country this is based on Islam and we do not want a president who is Islamc from birth.

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