If You Read This Book, It’ll Make You a Radical: A Conversation with Thomas Frank

By John Siman

Thomas Frank’s  new collection of essays:  Rendezvous with Oblivion: Reports from a Sinking Society (Metropolitan Books 2018) and Listen, Liberal; or,Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? (ibid. 2016)

To hang out with Thomas Frank for a couple of hours is to be reminded that, going back to 1607, say, or to 1620, for a period of about three hundred and fifty years, the most archetypal of American characters was, arguably, the hard-working, earnest, self-controlled, dependable white Protestant guy, last presented without irony a generation or two — or three — ago in the television personas of men like Ward Cleaver and Mister Rogers.

Thomas Frank, who grew up in Kansas and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, who at age 53 has the vibe of a happy eager college nerd, not only glows with authentic Midwestern Nice (and sometimes his face turns red when he laughs, which is often), he actually lives in suburbia, just outside of D.C., in Bethesda, where, he told me, he takes pleasure in mowing the lawn and doing some auto repair and fixing dinner for his wife and two children. (Until I met him, I had always assumed it was impossible for a serious intellectual to live in suburbia and stay sane, but Thomas Frank has proven me quite wrong on this.)

Frank  is sincerely worried about the possibility of offending friends and acquaintances by the topics he chooses to write about. He told me that he was a Boy Scout back in Kansas, but didn’t make Eagle. He told me that he was perhaps a little too harsh on Hillary Clinton in his brilliantly perspicacious “Liberal Gilt [sic]” chapter at the end of Listen, Liberal. His piercing insight into and fascination with the moral rot and the hypocrisy that lies in the American soul brings, well, Nathaniel Hawthorne to mind, yet he refuses to say anything (and I tried so hard to bait him!) mean about anyone, no matter how culpable he or she is in the ongoing dissolving and crumblingand sinking— all his metaphors — of our society. And with such metaphors Frank describes the “one essential story” he is telling in Rendezvous with Oblivion: “This is what a society looks like when the glue that holds it together starts to dissolve. This is the way ordinary citizens react when they learn that the structure beneath them is crumbling. And this is the thrill that pulses through the veins of the well-to-do when they discover that there is no longer any limit on their power to accumulate” (Thomas Frankin NYC on book tour ).

And I believe that Frank’s self-restraint, his refusal to indulge in bitter satire even as he parses our every national lie, makes him unique as social critic. “You will notice,” he writes in the introduction to Rendezvous with Oblivion, “that I describe [these disasters] with a certain amount of levity. I do that because that’s the only way to confront the issues of our time without sinking into debilitating gloom” (p. 8). And so rather than succumbing to an existential nausea, Frank descends into the abyss with a dependable flashlight and a ca. 1956 sitcom-dad chuckle.

“Let us linger over the perversity,” he writes in “Why Millions of Ordinary Americans Support Donald Trump,” one of the seventeen component essays in Rendezvous with Oblivion: “Let us linger over the perversity. Left parties the world over were founded to advance the fortunes of working people. But our left party in America — one of our two monopoly parties — chose long ago to turn its back on these people’s concerns, making itself instead into the tribune of the enlightened professional class, a ‘creative class’ that makes innovative things like derivative securities and smartphone apps” (p. 178).

And it is his analysis of this “Creative Class” — he usually refers to it as the “Liberal Class” and sometimes as the “Meritocratic Class” in Listen, Liberal (while Barbara Ehrenreich uses the term “Professional Managerial Class,”and Matthew Stewart recently published an article entitled “The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy” in the ) — that makes it clear that Frank’s work is a continuation of the profound sociological critique that goes back to Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) and, more recently, to Christopher Lasch’s The Revolt of the Elites (1994).

Unlike Veblen and Lasch, however, Frank is able to deliver the harshest news without any hauteur or irascibility, but rather with a deftness and tranquillity of mind, for he is both in and of the Creative Class; he abides among those afflicted by the epidemic which he diagnoses: “Today we live in a world of predatory bankers, predatory educators, even predatory health care providers, all of them out for themselves…. Liberalism itself has changed to accommodate its new constituents’ technocratic views. Today, liberalism is the philosophy not of the sons of toil but of the ‘knowledge economy’ and, specifically, of the knowledge economy’s winners: the Silicon Valley chieftains, the big university systems, and the Wall Street titans who gave so much to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign…. They are a ‘learning class’ that truly gets the power of education. They are a ‘creative class’ that naturally rebels against fakeness and conformity. They are an ‘innovation class’ that just can’t stop coming up with awesome new stuff” (Listen, Liberal, pp. 27-29).

And the real bad news is not that this Creative Class, this Expert Class, this Meritocratic Class, this Professional Class — this LiberalClass, with all its techno-ecstasy and virtue-questing and unleashing of innovation — is so deeply narcissistic and hypocritical, but rather that it is so self-interestedly parasitical and predatory.

The class that now runs the so-called Party of the People is impoverishing the people; the genius value-creators at Amazon and Google and Uber are Robber Barons, although, one must grant, hipper, cooler, and oh so much more innovative than their historical predecessors. “In reality,” Frank writes in Listen, Liberal,

….there is little new about this stuff except the software, the convenience, and the spying. Each of the innovations I have mentioned merely updates or digitizes some business strategy that Americans learned long ago to be wary of. Amazon updates the practices of Wal-Mart, for example, while Google has dusted off corporate behavior from the days of the Robber Barons. What Uber does has been compared to the every-man-for-himself hiring procedures of the pre-union shipping docks…. Together, as Robert Reich has written, all these developments are ‘the logical culmination of a process that began thirty years ago when corporations began turning over full-time jobs to temporary workers, independent contractors, free-lancers, and consultants.’ This is atavism, not innovation…. And if we keep going in this direction, it will one day reduce all of us to day laborers, standing around like the guys outside the local hardware store, hoping for work.  (p. 215).

And who gets this message? The YouTube patriot/comedian Jimmy Dore, Chicago-born, ex-Catholic, son of a cop, does for one. “If you read this book,” Dore said while interviewingFrank back in January of 2017, “it’ll make you a radical” (Frank Interview Part 4 ).

But to what extent, on the other hand, is Frank being actively excluded from our elite media outlets? He’s certainly not on TV or radio or in print as much as he used to be. So is he a prophet without honor in his own country? Frank, of course, is too self-restrained to speculate about the motives of these Creative Class decision-makers and influencers. “But it is ironic and worth mentioning,” he told me, “that most of my writing for the last few years has been in a British publication, The Guardian and (in translation) in Le Monde Diplomatique. The way to put it, I think, is to describe me as an ex-pundit.”

Frank was, nevertheless, happy to tell me in vivid detail about how his most fundamental observation about America, viz. that the Party of the People has become hostile to the people, was for years effectively discredited in the Creative Class media — among the bien-pensants, that is — and about what he learned from their denialism.

JS: Going all the way back to your 2004 book What’s the Matter with Kansas?— I just looked at Larry Bartels’s attack on it, “What’s the Matter with What’s the Matter with Kansas?” — and I saw that his first objection to your book was, Well, Thomas Frank says the working class is alienated from the Democrats, but I have the math to show that that’s false. How out of touch does that sound now?

TCF: [laughs merrily] I know.

JS: I remember at the time that was considered a serious objection to your thesis.

TCF: Yeah. Well, he was a professor at Princeton. And he had numbers. So it looked real. And I in which I pointed out that there were other statistical ways of looking at it, and he had chosen the one that makes his point.

JS: Well, what did Mark Twain say?

TCF: Mark Twain?

JS: There are lies, damned lies —

TCF: [laughs merrily]  — and statistics! Yeah. Well, anyhow, Bartels’s take became the common sense of the highly educated — there needs to be a term for these people by the way, in France they’re called the bien-pensants— the “right-thinking,” the people who read The Atlantic, The New York Timesop-ed page, The Washington Postop-ed page, and who all agree with each other on everything — there’s this tight little circle of unanimity. And they all agreed that  Bartels was right about that, and that was a costly mistake. For example, Paul Krugman, a guy whom I admire in a lot of ways, he referenced this four or five times. . No, the Democrats are not losing the white working class outside the South — they were not going over to the Republicans. The suggestion was that there is nothing to worry about.Yes. And there were people saying this right up to the 2016 election. But it was a mistake.

JS: I remember being perplexed at the time. I had thought you had written this brilliant book, and you weren’t being taken seriously — because somebody at Princeton had run some software — as if that had proven you wrong.

TCF: Yeah, that’s correct…. That was a very widespread take on it. And Bartels was incorrect, and I am right, and [laughs merrily] that’s that.

JS: So do you think Russiagate is a way of saying, Oh no no no no, Hillary didn’t really lose?

TCF: Well, she did win the popular vote — but there’s a whole set of pathologies out there right now that all stem from Hillary Denialism. And I don’t want to say that Russiagate is one of them, because we don’t know the answer to that yet.

JS:  Um, ok.

TCF: Well, there are all kinds of questionable reactions to 2016 out there, and what they all have in common is the faith that Democrats did nothing wrong. For example, this same circle of the bien-pensantshave decided that the only acceptable explanation for Trump’s victory is the racism of his supporters. Racism can be the only explanation for the behavior of Trump voters. But that just seems odd to me because, while it’s true of course that there’s lots of racism in this country, and while Trump is clearly a bigot and clearly won the bigot vote, racism is just one of several factors that went into what happened in 2016. Those who focus on this as the only possible answer are implying that all Trump voters are irredeemable, lost forever.

And it comes back to the same point that was made by all those people who denied what was happening with the white working class, which is: The Democratic Party needs to do nothing differently. All the post-election arguments come back to this same point. So a couple years ago they were saying about the white working class — we don’t have to worry about them — they’re not leaving the Democratic Party, they’re totally loyal, especially in the northern states, or whatever the hell it was. And now they say, well, Those people are racists, and therefore they’re lost to us forever. What is the common theme of these two arguments? It’s always that there’s nothing the Democratic Party needs to do differently. First, you haven’t lost them; now you have lost them and they’re irretrievable: Either way — you see what I’m getting at? — you don’t have to do anything differently to win them.

JS: Yes, I do.

TCF: The argument in What’s the Matter with Kansas? was that this is a long-term process, the movement of the white working class away from the Democratic Party. This has been going on for a long time. It begins in the ‘60s, and the response of the Democrats by and large has been to mock those people, deride those people, and to move away from organized labor, to move away from class issues — working class issues — and so their response has been to make this situation worse, and it gets worse, and it gets worse, and it gets worse, and it gets worse! And there’s really no excuse for them not seeing it. But they say, believe, rationalize, you know, come up with anything that gets then off the hook for this, that allows them to ignore this change. Anything. They will say or believe whatever it takes.

JS: Yes.

TCF: By the way, these are the smartest people! These are tenured professors at Ivy League institutions, these are people with Nobel Prizes, people with foundation grants, people with, you know, chairs at prestigious universities, people who work at our most prestigious media outlets — that’s who’s wrong about all this stuff.

JS: [quoting the title of David Halberstam’s 1972 book, an excerpt from which Frank uses as an epigraph for Listen, Liberal] The best and the brightest!

TCF: [laughing merrily] Exactly. Isn’t it fascinating?

JS: But this gets to the irony of the thing. [locates highlighted passage in book] I’m going to ask you one of the questions you ask in Rendezvous with Oblivion: “Why are worshippers of competence so often incompetent?” (p. 165). That’s a huge question.

TCF:That’s one of the big mysteries. Look. Take a step back. I had met Barack Obama. He was a professor at the University of Chicago, and I’d been a student there. And he was super smart. Anyhow, I met him and was really impressed by him. All the liberals in Hyde Park — that’s the neighborhood we lived in — loved him, and I was one of them, and I loved him too. And I was so happy when he got elected.

Anyhow, I knew one thing he would do for sure, and that is he would end the reign of cronyism and incompetence that marked the Bush administration and before them the Reagan administration. These were administrations that actively promoted incompetent people. And I knew Obama wouldn’t do that, and I knew Obama would bring in the smartest people, and he’d get the best economists. Remember, when he got elected we were in the pit of the crisis — we were at this terrible moment — and here comes exactly the right man to solve the problem. He did exactly what I just described: He brought in [pause] Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard, considered the greatest economist of his generation — and, you know, go down the list: He had Nobel Prize winners, he had people who’d won genius grants, he had The Best and the Brightest. And they didn’t really deal with the problem. They let the Wall Street perpetrators off the hook — in a catastrophic way, I would argue. They come up with a health care system that was half-baked. Anyhow, the question becomes — after watching the great disappointments of the Obama years — the question becomes: Why did government-by-expert fail?

JS: So how did this happen? Why?

TCF: The answer is understanding experts not as individual geniuses but as members of a class. This is the great missing link in all of our talk about expertise. Experts aren’t just experts: They are members of a class. And they act like a class. They have loyalty to one another; they have a disdain for others, people who aren’t like them, who they perceive as being lower than them, and there’s this whole hierarchy of status that they are at the pinnacle of.

And once you understand this, then everything falls into place! So why did they let the Wall Street bankers off the hook? Because these people were them. These people are their peers. Why did they refuse to do what obviously needed to be done with the health care system? Because they didn’t want to do that to their friends in Big Pharma. Why didn’t Obama get tough with Google and Facebook? They obviously have this kind of scary monopoly power that we haven’t seen in a long time. Instead, he brought them into the White House, he identified with them. Again, it’s the same thing. Once you understand this, you say: Wait a minute — so the Democratic Party is a vehicle of this particular social class! It all makes sense. And all of a sudden all of these screw-ups make sense. And, you know, all of their rhetoric makes sense. And the way they treat working class people makes sense. And they way they treat so many other demographic groups makes sense — all of the old-time elements of the Democratic Party: unions, minorities, et cetera. They all get to ride in back. It’s the professionals — you know, the professional class — that sits up front and has its hands on the steering wheel.

                                                *             *           *

It is, given Frank’s persona, not surprising that he is able to conclude Listen, Liberal with a certain hopefulness, and so let me end by quoting some of his final words:

What I saw in Kansas eleven years ago is now everywhere…. It is time to face the obvious: that the direction the Democrats have chosen to follow for the last few decades has been a failure for both the nation and for their own partisan health…. The Democrats posture as the ‘party of the people’ even as they dedicate themselves ever more resolutely to serving and glorifying the professional class. Worse: they combine self-righteousness and class privilege in a way that Americans find stomach-turning…. The Democrats have no interest in reforming themselves in a more egalitarian way…. What we can do is strip away the Democrats’ precious sense of their own moral probity — to make liberals live without the comforting knowledge that righteousness is always on their side…. Once that smooth, seamless sense of liberal virtue has been cracked, anything becomes possible. (pp. 256-257).

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128 comments

  1. flora

    Great post.

    This para stands out for me:

    The answer is understanding experts not as individual geniuses but as members of a class. This is the great missing link in all of our talk about expertise. Experts aren’t just experts: They are members of a class. And they act like a class. They have loyalty to one another; they have a disdain for others, people who aren’t like them, who they perceive as being lower than them, and there’s this whole hierarchy of status that they are at the pinnacle of.

    Oh, the truth in that para, which can be written and said without rancor the way one can say ‘the weather is good today’, or ‘I like cinnamon rolls’, or any other statement of simple fact. The official ‘experts’ think, imo, that they are the only experts. The land of academic sky-blue theory is too often self-referential.

    1. Louis Fyne

      which is why Amazon gets a pass when doing the exact same thing to its workers as Walmart.

      which is why Nike and Apple get a pass with the treatment of its subcontracted workers when many of said customers go out of their way to buy ethically raised beef or fair trade coffee.

      1. readerOfTeaLeaves

        FWIW, saying “Amazon workers” throws the people in warehouses in with people developing products, writing code, and doing… ‘creative work’. It creates a kind of mind-blindness that makes it difficult to see what’s really going on. Think of it as more than one company, or as an extremely complex organization, and you’ll get farther in your analysis, I suspect.

        1. french75

          The same is true of Walmart – which has online shopping (like Amazon), operations management engineers (like Amazon), and app developers.

          Yet Amazon receives a caveat – even from you – while Walmart does not.

          1. readerOfTeaLeaves

            You make a good point, thanks.
            About 15% of my (extended) family’s goods arrive via FedEx or UPS from Amazon orders to one household or another. I don’t think of Amazon as a physical store: but rather as a vast network of warehouses, trucks, logistics, and tracking software.

            I tend to think of Walmart as a physical store, whose employees I have to underwrite for medical, while the Walton family is getting richer by the day. I think of Walmart as a physical store; Amazon as deliveries.

            It’s been … maybe 18 years since a friend (who’d know) was grousing about how Amazon poached a bunch of Walmart execs, which made a lot of sense when you think that they were going after scale, logistics, and consumer markets. Walmart is trying to ‘go Amazon’, but it certainly seems that would be an uphill battle in terms of corporate culture. It makes sense, however, that if Amazon poached a lot of Walmart people, then the neoliberal, cost-cutting myopia that worked for Walmart would have seeped into parts of the Amazon corporate culture.

        2. jrs

          I’ve mostly heard it’s a bad place even to write code, but that is relatively speaking, compared to the other employers to there, code writing is still generally going to be better than warehouse work of course, but I’m not sure Amazon is the best place to work at regardless.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            People who wouldn’t want to work at Amazon really should not buy from Amazon.

            People who buy from Amazon deserve to work at Amazon.

            ( And no, I have never yet bought Thing One from Amazon).

      2. political economist

        From what I have heard, seen, and read, Amazon is not doing exactly the same thing as Walmart. It is worse in its reification of workers, arguably much worse.

    2. In the Land of Farmers

      Yes, that paragraph stuck out with me as well. What is more is that they also PRETEND to be in, or care about, other classes, when in fact they only care about ideology. I have a typical neo-liberal, white female acquaintance who took up black history for her masters and now she hangs out with all these other upper class black people. I was at a party with all of them once when she started talking to me about the struggles of the black community I replied; “I do not see any of them here.” To say the least, she was pissed at me.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        What would be a catchy name for this class? The Professionoisie? The Expertariat?
        The ” Better-Than-You” class?

    3. Paul

      go to Tommy Douglas “Mouseland” written for the 50th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike. Its not that they were bad cats, its just that they were cats.

    4. ChrisPacific

      I had just control-Ced that paragraph to quote in a comment myself, so I’ll post here instead.

      So the ‘experts’ mostly turned out to be not nearly as good at the things they were supposedly ‘expert’ in as everyone thought they would be. On the other hand, they are uniformly, without exception, members of the class that Frank describes. What does that tell you about how one ascends to the status of ‘expert’ in today’s society?

      As another demonstration of the same point, we can look at the track record of various experts in predicting the GFC, and whether those that failed suffered any loss of status as a consequence.

  2. audrey jr

    Thanks for posting this, Yves. The conversation that we are not having in this country is about class.
    The U.S. has always had a class system, although unacknowledged as such, and anyone whose eyes are open knows that this is true.

    1. fajensen

      In My Opinion, “Identity Politics” was deliberately created by some obscure cold-war think-tank to suck away all nourishment from class-issues and the civil liberties movements.

      Class is somewhat like the membership of a club, it is something that can be changed. Change is risky and unwanted when one sits at the grownup table / trough.

      When one brings in “Identity” instead of Class, one is now dealing with an innate property which cannot be so readily changed so no change is really needed (in fact, changes in identity could be seen as infringements on a person) and then all discussion becomes like children arguing over how to divvy up the saturday goodie bag that the parents bought for them: Zero-sum, perpetual, irrelevant, annoying, contained and therefore unproductive.

      Exactly what those population-management experts ordered.

      — This diversion was made easy because the left were always much more eager to ritually slaughter each other over tiny nuances in ideology and wording than to take on actual “Power”. The smart radicals got fed up with the left after years of futile infighting and purging of “fake-consciousness” and discovered neoliberalism instead. An unhealthy obsession with “Strength though Purity” is the infernal engine that drives mosts of those remaining radical “thinkers” now – also on the right, one notice; “Identity-Issues” slots right into that mentality.

  3. georgieboy

    Thanks very much, Yves. Bang on.

    The Clintons are evil scammers. Obama was always only about his personal ambition and glory (witness the monument — to himself — he and Rahm are using Chicago parkland and Chicago money to build). And Obama was astoundingly ignorant about how the world works outside his safe-space law school bubble, so he let Robert Rubin and cronies take him by the hand.

    Their personal failings as leaders aside, Thomas Frank nails what is deeply wrong with modern faux Democrats.

      1. 4corners

        It’s hard to ascribe motives and even harder to judge intentions in such a complex role. I have friends that still fault Republicans for Obama’s shortcomings. This takes me back to the good ol days of George W, with same acid test. Was he just Cheney’s instrument or was that home-spun simplicity just a veneer?

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          RINO was the catchall phrase for the perceived shortcomings of Republican leadership. It was the fault of RINOs cavorting with Dimmiecrats!

        2. Seamus Padraig

          I know the type! It’s as though they just went and memory-holed the years 2009-2011, when the Dems controlled both houses of congress simultaneously. Weird …

          1. downunderer

            I am still charmed by Obama, despite the many seeming paradoxes in his actual performance. Perhaps someone can reconcile one of them that continues to push me away from all regular American politics:

            How is it possible in America, ruled by a Constitution to which all officials publicly swear loyalty and support, that an honest and respectable man won the Presidency while promising to do away with the abomination that is Guantanamo, and thus Constitutionally became the “commander in chief of the army and navy of the United States”, and then despite years of being CinC during his Party’s dominance of both houses of Congress failed to issue the necessary order?

            If someone can answer that satisfactorily, perhaps they can also explain the actions taken during that Presidency against Julian Assange, who has always only told us the truth, so essential to voters in a democracy.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        I agree. ” Judas Horse” Obama was always in it for the Big Tubmans. Right from the very start.

      1. Newton Finn

        Yes. Another excellent interview following on the heels of the one with Chris Hedges. Cfdtrade would do well to keep publishing John’s work, because incisive and insightful interviewers have become as rare as deeply-principled liberals.

    1. DHG

      LOL, Obama is quite certain in what he chooses to do. At this point I intend to vote D and I no Rs. Im not interested in losing my medicare/caid and possibly SS. A novel idea is to raise taxes to pay for it all.

  4. Roger Smith

    Great post and interview. Sometimes I think Frank is a little too nice for his own good, but he is a great guy and the most important political or socio-economic historian of our time. It is great how he exclaims that once you understand that experts form a class, it is “simple!” It is this average, every man simplicity to this realization and understanding of the political machine that too turns away the creative class from entertaining these ideas or hosting Frank. That is the simpleton’s primitive answer, not that of an informed, nuanced, worldly “expert”. No doubt Ockham is wondering when he’ll next appear on a CNN panel.

    1. a different chris

      The working class, white and otherwise (the 50% that don’t even show up to vote) already have long understood the “class” system.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        If they had a working class party of their very own to vote for, would they come out and vote for it . . . after all these years of disappointment?

  5. Roger Smith

    An anecdote on Oblivion–

    I work at a public university and just overhead some students talking in the hall. One of them was describing to the others some sort of situation she was in. Another student offered a half-serious solution; start a GoFundMe campaign. The woman laughed at this and said, “Like a Grandma?!”

    But you know, experts or something.

  6. Anonymous

    While I agree with most of what is discussed here, I believe the money piles needed to win elections is one of the fundamental reasons the Democrats side with the corporate interests when it is clearly not in the best interest of the folks that voted them into power.

    The second observation is that even for the educated class, financial security is not something to take for granted. A job loss, a prolonged illness and you are off the secure middle-class perch.

    1. Tom

      I don’t think this is in conflict with Frank’s arguments.

      Assuming, as I do, David Harvey was right and the neoliberal project was to restore a ruling elite then this elite needs a hierarchy that will do its bidding. Jeff Schmidt explained how people are selected and trained to be loyal to the ideology of their employers. These disciplined minds operate the machinery of accumulation by dispossession on behalf of the ruling elite and they form the very class that Thomas Frank is talking about.

      1. french75

        Tom-

        You drop some names with which I am not familiar. Can you name or link the work to which you refer? I am interested.

        1. Tom

          David Harvey

          – Lots of good stuff on Youtube including his lectures on Marx Capital

          – I mentioned his book Neoliberalism

          Jeff Schmidt: the book Disciplined Minds is superb, one of the most useful I read in a very long time. It explains the politics and mechanism of producing a workforce for the ruling class in post-grad schools.

    2. False Solace

      Voters are irrelevant because they can be bought with media advertising. All that costs is money. Any other power the citizens of this country once possessed (labor unions, general strikes, etc.) has been amputated thanks to outsourcing, corrosive laws and court decisions, and lots of propaganda.

      It ties into the analysis that was linked on NC a couple weeks ago: Since the lower 90% are now irrelevant to politics, the main fight is between globalist technocrats and nationalist industrialists. Obama’s crowd of liberal meritocrats consists of these educated, prosperous, borderless technocrats. The industrialists are represented by Trump. The lines of division are still sorting themselves out, so both parties are somewhat fractured. The voters, who are represented by no one, oscillate between the parties who equally reject their interests.

      1. dcrane

        If the lower 90% were irrelevant to politics, would we have either President Trump or Brexit today? I’d say the statement is too strong.

      2. Seamus Padraig

        Since the lower 90% are now irrelevant to politics, the main fight is between globalist technocrats and nationalist industrialists.

        Who are these “nationalist industrialists”? All of our industrialists long ago went for off-shoring.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Coal/oil/ore/stone/sand extractors could be considered “default nationalist” if the only coal/oil/ore/stone/sand they can extract to sell is located within the borders of the country in which they operate.

    3. Roger Smith

      While it is no secret that money controls everything in politics, I do not agree with this when it comes to voting. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what special interests gave you money, or who was rubbing whom; you need the voters to turnout and the real power is in the numbers. Sanders almost got there but petered out. Honesty is always the best policy and when someone courageous who has the will and right approach to the footing needed to enter the national stage (and let’s face it, luck), they will crush this phony cash-advertisement based politics. This is why I am dead against “progressives” running as Democrats. Sure you get that national footing, but the compromise isn’t worth it and it is limiting.

      1. Elizabeth Burton

        It has nothing to do with “national footing.” It’s the only way to have half a chance at winning because the entire system is stacked toward the two monopolist parties. I can’t figure out why the “never vote for a Democrat” crowd can’t seem to grasp that one simple fact.

        Until all primaries in all states are open primaries that don’t require someone be registered as either D or R to participate, any progressive who wants a shot at the office has no choice but to run as a Democrat to get past that first obstacle. Those who want to replace the Democrats should stop criticizing people who understand that right now they are usually the only game in town and start working for open-primary laws in their state of residence.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        Sanders got further under the Democratic label than he would have gotten under the Green label.

    4. 4corners

      On your second point: With the right credentials and networks, the educated class (esp. the 10%) seem firmly ensconced. Their advantages accumulate and are passed down to the next generation. (But we might be thinking of different classes.) Anyway, I agree that feeling a little precarious might make one more amenable to progressive causes.

    5. Procopius

      The choice to abandon Labor and join with Big Money was a conscious decision, made after much thought and analysis, by the New Democrats/Third Way/Democratic Leadership Council after 1980. has an interesting (long) interview with Tulsi Gabbard, where they mention in passing that many of the “rebel” candidates (Ms. Gabbard says over 100) have sworn to not accept any donations from PACs or corporations, and this may be because Bernie showed in 2016 that the small donation model can work.

  7. Tom

    Clever and powerful people keep deceiving themselves with numbers. The HRC campaign. David Cameron’s decision to have a referendum. Theresa May’s decision to call an election. Decisions with much at stake and with history of polls often being very wrong.

    It’s strange that so many pols, pundits and media people can’t seem to get their head around this.

    1. AbateMagicThinking but Not Money

      Polls, Pollies* and the media:

      Most effective politicians seem to be media tarts; the media delivers their propaganda, and in due course they start believing their own propaganda. They forget that those outside the political-media nexus are people who have have the protest vote – a carefully concealed dagger which is wielded only when least expected.

      nb: I class political pollsters as media companies or at least fellow travellers.

      Pip-Pip!

      *Politicians here in ‘Stralia

    2. fajensen

      It’s strange that so many pols, pundits and media people can’t seem to get their head around this.

      It is difficult and exhausting to argue against the Crowd of Muppets (as I call them) – there are those people who always follow all of the rules, are always spending more time on presentations than actual work, are always ingratiating themselves with authority and management and so on. Most leadership just love them!

      Even when one knows better, one knows exactly what will happen and has explained this many times, one has even made sure that this is well-documented in the “Ah Told Ya So!”-files, the muppets will ceaselessly peddle incarnations of the one hare-brained scheme they managed to invent, again and again. Like the rats chewing trough an armoured cable by mere persistence.

      Then, there comes a personal breaking point where one says: “To Hell with it!”. “I suddenly realise, that I don’t really give a shit actually!!”. “Hey, I could do something else!!!”. And one lets it go.

      David Cameron certainly has this “You lot bricked it, now it’s all yours”-air about him. He has left for more enjoyable ventures. Those other two …. I don’t think they are smart enough to abandon a losing venture, they are of the “quitting is cheating, try harder”-mentality.

  8. meadows

    I have a neighbor who is a soon-to-retire tenured math prof at our local university. I have been impressed over the years how he presumes expertise in many subjects! Although he has never in his entire life lived outside of academia, his hubris is impenetrable, an expert in all subjects…

      1. David J.

        Seems to me that the citizens who participated in the juridical murder of Socrates may have had the same thought. What did the followers of Socrates do in the wake of the execution of Socrates? Many scooted right out of town, for good reason.

      2. Seamus Padraig

        Socrates was much more modest than his disciple Plato–he was quite nearly a skeptic, in fact. His famous motto was: “I know only that I know nothing.”

  9. polecat

    Yes, the credentialed class “faux Democrats” ..
    Likened, as a group, to a mob of zombiefied creatures wearing rigor mortis grins, as they lurch forward .. to clutch your entrials in a deathgrip !
    I mean, who wouldn’t shoot-up, having to face such a relentless, hubristic, and toxic social brew .. knowing there is no escape from their cynically righteous, yet hideous policy.

    They are allowing the oligarchic maggots to now on what’s left of the cohesional strands that are tenuously holding this country .. in deed, the world .. together !

  10. readerOfTeaLeaves

    What we can do is strip away the Democrats’ precious sense of their own moral probity — to make liberals live without the comforting knowledge that righteousness is always on their side…. Once that smooth, seamless sense of liberal virtue has been cracked, anything becomes possible. (pp. 256-257).

    Ouch!
    Having a pack of Trump-voting s has greatly enriched my thinking.
    I don’t know as much, despite my hoity-toity degrees, as a number of people of my acquaintance who opted for the School of Hard Knocks and well-used library cards.

    I suspect that Franks is telling such an epic tale that he doesn’t fit easily into 4 – 8 minute news slots. Plus, who among us really wants to admit that we might lack moral virtue — if we lacked moral virtue, how could we possibly justify telling other people what to do?!

    1. False Solace

      Thomas Frank committed the sin of criticizing Hillary Clinton. In my opinion that’s the main reason he’s no longer invited on MSNBC. Back when he was talking about those crazy people in Kansas he was much more palatable to the liberal establishment.

      1. perpetualWAR

        It is my belief we need to stop calling it the “liberal establishment” and rename it “blue establishment.”

        Liberal means: open to new ideas and thoughts. They are so far from liberal!

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          I like “neo-liberal” as they’ve borrowed processes from old liberals without the morality or context of those policies. Dismantling regulation is radically different when discussing democratic governments and feudal lords, even though the language might be the same.

      2. Code Name D

        Oh it’s worse than that. His great sin was that he didn’t bow deep enugh fro Hillary. And critising her? -gasp- where is my fainting couch!

      3. NotTimothyGeithner

        HRC is a bit of a red herring. Frank’s original claim to fame was the “look at the idiots” book which reinforced the notion of Team Blue types as enlightened thinkers because reasons, always being foiled by Republicans. The audience receptive to that message ate it up. Its no different than the minister explaining how his flock is good and tsking the unsaved outside the walls of the church.

        When Frank reexamines his own work, he added updates to “What’s the Matter with Kansas” that paint a radically different message about class abandonment and desperate people trying to find answers. The story of Pope Michael I is a farce despite devoting a whole section to some random crank. Its easy to blame the crank. It offers absolution (not even absolution because that suggests there was a sin) to the people who “compromised” on right wing Democrats over the years who should have known better. The updates point the finger back at the original reader. HRC with her “deplorable” line embraces the original narrative. Obama with his “cling to God and guns” line was a similar issue.

      4. drumlin woodchuckles

        I think the Liberal Establishment never even understood Franks’s book. They think the title was straight. They don’t know and will never know that the title is ironic.

        The whole point of the book is that there is nothing the matter with Kansas. Kansas was voting in response to many years of betrayal by the New Improved Democrats. I always understood Franks to be saying that if Kansas had an aggressive New Deal Party to vote for, Kansas might well vote for it.

        Actually, the New Improved Democrats understand this quite well. That is why they rigged the Dem primaries against Sanders . . . . to prevent Kansas from having something working-class-beneficial to vote for.

  11. edmondo

    I found the post to be seriously depressing. The “Giant Blue Wave” (registered trademark) coming in November looks more like a temporary blip. The Democrats refuse to change and they will blow their chance to do anything positive for the working class so we will end up with another anti-Democratic Party reaction. In reaction, the GOP will give us something even worse than Donald Trump in 2024.

    The one saving grace of this is that I am old enough that it’s likely I won’t live long enough to see it but I am certain that it will be ugly.

    1. Epistrophy

      The “Giant Blue Wave” (registered trademark) coming in November looks more like a temporary blip.

      I hope that this excellent article helps some of the Trump bashers to better understand why he was elected. His growing base wants to break up the classist Washington establishment that has been so clearly identified by Frank. They sent in a bruiser, and they knew he was a bruiser. For this reason the MSM and their “Liberal Class” (as Frank would term them) cannot beat him down with endless negative propaganda; this is exactly what his base desires and expects. To them it is more evidence that he is being effective.

      The Democrat party and their core “Liberal Class” is still so out of touch with reality and the electorate that there will not be any ‘Blue Wave’ this November. In fact the beating that they will take from the voters will ultimately prove to be a positive event as it will finally cause a root and branch overhaul of the entire rotten Democrat party edifice.

      In my view the Democrat party at present is pure poison and the voters have finally internalized their failings. I hope that they will reform so that the electorate will have more sound and more moderate options going forward to 2020.

      The best that this “Liberal Class” of Democrats could do to regain the confidence of the electorate would be to put some of their own ringleaders in the dock. But it won’t happen. Not yet anyway.

      And don’t take this as my endorsement of the Republicans either. Right now the entire system needs a good shaking out.

      1. Anon

        Epi, you may have missed this comment by False Solace: “The voters, who are represented by no one, oscillate between the parties who equally reject their interests.”

        Trump no more cares about his proletariat supporters than the DNC does about theirs. Does it appear that Trump is “draining the swamp” in DC? Does it appear that the Democrats in Congress will make real efforts to help the working class? The answer is, “No” to both questions.

        The US political system is designed to give power to the few, not provide for a real democracy.

        1. Epistrophy

          Trump no more cares about his proletariat supporters than the DNC does about theirs.

          In my view the real radicals are the ones who put Trump into office. He is the anti “Liberal-Class” candidate. I make this assertion based upon the hatred shown by the so-called “Liberal Class” and how they berate (and in some cases threaten) him at every possible opportunity, every minute of every day and in every form of media. This is simply unprecidented.

          As I indicated in my post, however, I am not endorsing either party. The whole lot of them needs a good shake out.

          The US political system is designed to give power to the few, not provide for a real democracy.

          Unfortunately every political system in the world is ultimately subjected to this reality. Even fully Communist ones (as George Orwell so clearly exemplified). Power corrupts as they say. A successful political system will balance these competing interests over the longer term. In my opinion they are severely out of balance in the United States at present.

          I am not bothered about the wealth or lack of wealth of a political candidate. It makes no difference to me. What concerns me is whether that wealth comes before public service or after it.

          I would argue that it is worse that one acquires great wealth as a government servant; there is something about this that smells. In my opinion, multi-million dollar book advances, special banking advisory roles, special highly paid media appointments and large corporate contributions to foundations are just payoffs and kickbacks by another name. So are the revolving doors of the regulators.

          1. marym

            Endless investigations of the Clintons, the impeachment, Republican Congressional undermining of Obama, and relentless attacks on the Obamas from right-wing media offer some precedent.

            I too am not endorsing either party. Their politicians and pundits serve the same interests: their own as described in your last paragraph, and the concentrated wealth and power of the 1% that owns them.

        2. Procopius

          Does it appear that Trump is “draining the swamp” in DC?

          I think they’re quite satisfied that he’s “owning the liberals,” which I think he is.

          1. NotTimothyGeithner

            Like the Team Blue partisans who waved away every Obama action as part of 853rd dimensional chess against the most awesome forces of evil ever arrayed, the Trumpets will simply blame the Democrats or Rinos in classic GOP fashion. Carl Sagan was right about bad ideas having to die out.

            The ones with specific reasons for voting for Trump that are clearly betrayed will be ticked, but the average Republican voter is still quite satisfied with MSNBC hosts losing their minds.

            1. Seamus Padraig

              Exactly. Liberals’ own rage and hysteria are what will get Trump re-elected, regardless of whatever he may do or fail to do. Liberals just refuse to see how completely counter-productive their own anti-Trump hate campaign has been. They should have spent more time courting the voter, and less time bashing Trump.

      2. Big River Bandido

        I can’t see where a Blue Wave™ is supposed to materialize. A few “insurgents” have won Congressional primaries and governor’s races and face decent odds in November. But most of the Democrat nominees for Congress are the same people who trashed the country. And they’re just peddling the same stale crap they’ve been doing the last 40 years — as if Barry Manilow was still on Billboard.

        The voters have already rejected that, several times. They understand pretty well that if you want to fix a problem, you can’t send the same people who caused it.

  12. Synoia

    What we can do is strip away the Democrats’ precious sense of their own moral probity — to make liberals

    The Liberals in the UK became noting but a rump party, because their supposed care for the working call was punctured by the Labor Party – the Party of Unionism.

    if we lacked moral virtue, how could we possibly justify telling other people what to do?!

    With arrogance – We are their betters. An unswerving belief which needs no “moral virtue.”

    I wince when I read the tern “liberal” used in US politics, because I know of their complete uselessness in actually doing concrete things for the “working class.” Concrete reforms need a socialist party.

  13. PKMKII

    Can anyone give me a TL;DR on what Bartel’s criticism was of Frank and why it’s unfounded?

    On the incompetence of the competent: I think another factor is the hawthorne effect/looker’s bias of the meritocracy itself. If membership in the “creative class” is dependent on one’s membership to a particular set of businesses, think tanks, media, political positions, etc., then one will engage in whatever one needs to do in order to stay in those institutions. Which means excelling at meritocracy: scoring well on standardized testing, getting into the right colleges, getting the right internships, and then the creative class institutions as the end game. Problem being that excelling in the meritocracy doesn’t mean you have to display competence, just that you meet the check boxes of the institutions’ entry. In other words, that old saying about how studying for standardized tests doesn’t prepare you for critical thinking in the real world, it just prepares you for taking a standardized test, carries up.

    1. Code Name D

      Standerdized tests? Oh no no no. Tests are for common folk. Acording to Frank, what gets you membership into this class is enrolment in certain kinds of schools – the kind that the rest of us couldn’t aford or have the necisary political clout for enrolment.

      This isn’t acadmia we are talking about here. Where your reserch must prove itself in a brutal climet of peer-reviewed reserch.

      This is a climet of mutal admeration. Where every one know as admires every one else, and where every one is simply presumed into greatness.

      If you expect a paper to be brilent, you are likly to ignore its flaws. It’s easy to prove yourself in that inviroment.

  14. a different chris

    >Racism can be the only explanation for the behavior of Trump voters.
    >that all Trump voters are irredeemable, lost forever

    Sigh, and as I am making myself add at every point this comes up, Hillary is… white. Her running mate was white…and a middle-aged male to boot. How come these (not Thomas Frank, he well gets it) so called Ivy League brainiacs can’t get this simple fact thru their expensively educated heads?

    The other thing I always have to make sure to mention is that Kris Kobach is an Ivy Leaguer. As is Henry Kissinger. A *lot* of seemingly empty-headed rightwads are Ivy League. I’m not sure whether they are that stupid or are just playing the proles, but there are a lot of things they do and say that are just…stupid. At some point you have to take that at face value.

    Give me land-grant university people every time. Seriously.

    1. Phacops

      adc- remember, that once one is in an Ivy League school, one is never allowed to fail. That is the water those dunces swim in, incessantly failing upward. Competition and the possibility of failure is for us proles, don’cha know.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        That is not true. I knew people who failed, both at Harvard College and at the BSchool.

        They usually fail quickly, as in their first year. In fact, at the College, when I was there and for years after, there was a very predictable percentage that did not finish the first year, between getting failing grades and dropping out, and suicides.

        1. fajensen

          That is how it used to be, in Denmark. Only about 30% of the intake graduated in engineering, the university preferred the failing of those 60% early in the first two semesters (one year) so lots of hard subjects were crammed in. The early failure was to ease the personal pain and get them off-loaded to somewhere else more suited to their talents and actual interests (many people picked engineering because of the money).

          Now, Danish universities are paid on graduation. Education has been “reformed” so one can only pick one entry-level (what they call a Batchelor in Denmark) and one Masters/Phd-level “pathway”. One also cannot come back later and take a “lower” degree either, even though very few people have the same career their whole life.

          All the incentives are now on graduating everyone so the university gets paid. And the pressure is on everyone not failing, or failing in their resolve and pick a different path way, because then they might be Out, their one ticket spent!

          Regarding the “failing into a cushier job” syndrome, I know of two people who was involved in a well-published 2 million EUR fraud, one as the procurer of “services” from “friends & family” and one as the financial controller approving the procurements.

          Both are, according to linked-in, gainfully employed in similar positions. The conclusion must be that there is an actual market demand for leaders with a flexible interpretation of procurement and employment rules and for accountants who will sign off on pretty much anything.

          One knows large IT-consultancies that are seeming repeatedly hired to deliver one billion EUR IT-failure after another. “Seemingly”, however, It is also possible that they are hired to deliver Exactly that, Glorious Failure; If someone perhaps does not like that the IRS actually functions, then … an IT-revolution can certainly fix that situation for a decade or so.

          I think people should start taking politics really seriously, join political parties and get rid of the control frauds, which seems to be everywhere now; hiding under the cloak of derisive attitudes about politics and politicians.

          1. larry

            Perhaps part of the reason that Denmark has such a noneducational funding system is that Denmark pegged the Danish krone to the ERM. This may have limited its fiscal space. Why did they do this?

        2. Heraclitus

          And after school, there are certainly no guarantees of success. I went to an Ivy Business School in the ’90s, even, and there was a tremendous amount of unemployment and underemployment after graduation. One of my friends worked for $10 an hour for a year after he got his MBA to get a foot in the investment management biz. In NYC.

          And today, in my Southern boom town, I attend all Ivy events where I would guess a third of the people are looking for new jobs. If the Meritocrats are blind because they are so deeply invested in the world they’ve created, its because it is easy for the benefits for which they’ve studied so hard to disappear.

          Incidentally, I read somewhere that 85% of a recent Harvard Business School class supported Hillary in 2016, only 3% supported Trump. That tells you something.

        3. larry

          Agree. At Yale, they try not to fail you, but if you kick them in the bum enough, they will. And, usually, it will be in the first year. Suicide is also a problem at Yale, and at some state schools. For many, an avoidable tragedy, one would have thought. Yale used to interview selected drop outs, seemingly to try and change their minds, more or less asking them why they wanted to leave an institution that educated the elite of the nation.

      2. Epistrophy

        That is the water those dunces swim in, incessantly failing upward.

        LOL. I love that analogy. George W Bush and Yale immediately come to mind.

  15. DWD

    Yves, Let me add my voice to those saying thank you for posting this.

    If you can let your mind be free of the nonsense thrown at you 24/7, and then read this, it will be much easier.

    I have noted more and more that people simply do not read very well anymore. (I am a retired specialist in the teaching of reading) Often they read until they find something they disagree with, at that point they reject all of the ideas in the piece because they disagree with one portion instead of trying to see the point of view of the author – something that might challenge them to think.

    It is an anti-intellectualism that Hofstadter would have marveled at surviving in this age when all information is available with a simple search and a click.

    ***
    This was my favorite and worth repeating from the piece above,”Well, there are all kinds of questionable reactions to 2016 out there, and what they all have in common is the faith that Democrats did nothing wrong. For example, this same circle of the bien-pensants have decided that the only acceptable explanation for Trump’s victory is the racism of his supporters. Racism can be the only explanation for the behavior of Trump voters. But that just seems odd to me because, while it’s true of course that there’s lots of racism in this country, and while Trump is clearly a bigot and clearly won the bigot vote, racism is just one of several factors that went into what happened in 2016. Those who focus on this as the only possible answer are implying that all Trump voters are irredeemable, lost forever.

    “And it comes back to the same point that was made by all those people who denied what was happening with the white working class, which is: The Democratic Party needs to do nothing differently. All the post-election arguments come back to this same point. So a couple years ago they were saying about the white working class — we don’t have to worry about them — they’re not leaving the Democratic Party, they’re totally loyal, especially in the northern states, or whatever the hell it was. And now they say, well, Those people are racists, and therefore they’re lost to us forever. What is the common theme of these two arguments? It’s always that there’s nothing the Democratic Party needs to do differently. . . .”

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      There is no shortage of reading materials. Do people stop reading because they disagree with an idea or because the find fault in the author’s reasoning? How far do you advocate reading bad argument supported by faulty warrants or word torture arriving at hard to swallow conclusions?

      I haven’t read any of Frank’s books — and probably won’t. The idea of Frank as a Ward Cleaver or a Mr. Rogers of social critique makes me uncomfortable. The designation “Creative Class” … or as others label and congratulate this class … the “Meritocratic Class” / “Professional Managerial Class” / “New American Aristocracy” seems altogether too kindly and laudatory toward the class aggregate controling the Democratic Party and composing one partition of the Power Elite. If this is our ‘creative’ class then what class contains our artists, craftsmen, playwrights, novelists …? What class contains our adjunct professors and the post docs slaving in laboratories? Are these people without credentials or lacking in meritocratic claims? What class contains so many of our young people with their expensive credentials offered jobs for which a few years of high school had once been considered more than adequate?

      Just what did Frank’s “Creative Class” create or “Merit” or “Manage”? Frank hints at the nature of their creativity:
      “the enlightened professional class, a ‘creative class’ that makes innovative things like derivative securities and smartphone apps” or
      “‘learning class’ that truly gets the power of education. They are a ‘creative class’ that naturally rebels against fakeness and conformity. They are an ‘innovation class’ that just can’t stop coming up with awesome new stuff…”
      Aren’t members of his “Creative Class” the same people who created the financial collapse of 2007-2008 and before that created the transfer a American Industry and know-how overseas? Aren’t these the same people in the vanguard of the Corporate takeover of America? If these accomplishments deserve the labels “creative” or “innovative” maybe we need to revise our dictionaries and add a little connotation to their use. I suppose the label “disruptive” fits nicely.

      I also wonder at Frank’s comment on Obama and his administration. Does Obama deserve the gentle touch of Frank’s comments like:
      ” I knew Obama would bring in the smartest people, and he’d get the best economists. … He did exactly what I just described: He brought in [pause] Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard, considered the greatest economist of his generation — and, you know, go down the list: He had Nobel Prize winners, he had people who’d won genius grants, he had The Best and the Brightest. And they didn’t really deal with the problem.”
      I have a lot of trouble viewing Obama’s administration as a new Camelot — not that I’m a fan of the Kennedy version. [At least McNamarra comes off as totally clueless about his role in the Vietnam War in the documentary “The Fog of War”. I doubt the members of Obama’s “Best and Brightest” could claim the same naiveté as they executed their predations.]

      And the old moniker “working class” applied to us little people is growing a little long in the teeth since so many in the “working class” can’t find decent “work” and the old days of factories and mills is growing very old indeed. Are waiters or retail clerks, adjunct professors, or meat processing ‘technicians’ or the day laborers waiting for work in small crowds in the shade of a tree in the center of town … are they “working class” like coal miners or mill workers?

      1. barefoot charley

        I take Frank’s Mr-Rogers impression like I do Michael Pollen’s. They both present as unusually well-educated chuckleheads who kinda blunder onto serious points, which they eventually make well. But they don’t want to alarm the bien-pensants (no one else buys hardbacks) by saying, as Pollen doesn’t, “I write about pot because I like pot!” or saying as Frank doesn’t “Obama is Clinton with a zipper, can’t you shitheads see anything?” They’re sneaking up on their neighbors and classmates and colleagues blinded by Sinclair Lewis’s great truth that “It’s hard for a man to understand something that his salary depends on his not understanding.” Salary = privilege. Their rhetoric feels sometimes simple-minded to me, but then, I like to think I’m not a shithead.

        Jeremy, I don’t think you realize all those offensive labels are virtually tongue-in-cheek.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          I like Mr. Rogers a lot and I don’t have much opinion on Ward Cleaver except that he seems more than a little dated. I’m not keen to have either a Mr. Rogers or Ward Cleaver persona making social analysis. Mr. Rogers in particular is much too nice for the task, which is a component of his charm. I think those are the offensive labels you’re addressing? The thrust of my comment is that judging from this post Thomas Frank is far too nice, generous, and understanding to our Power Elite and their pet dogs and monkeys. I am particularly troubled by the label “Creative Class”. The word “creative” holds much different meaning and connotation for me than it seems to hold for Frank. Similar objections apply to the word “innovation” applied to the master works of this “Creative Class” or the word “merit” applied to our “meritocratic” betters. If these usages are all made as sarcasm I missed that tone in this post, but it won’t be the first time I’ve missed sarcasm. I tend to take things literally unless I have some fairly plain markers to indicate I shouldn’t.

          1. Generalist

            You’ve simply missed Frank’s affable irony. Which means that if you really want to understand this interview, you ought to reread it while asking yourself at each point where you disagree with what you take as unjust generosity: is he being ironical, sarcastic here? I think you may find the answer to that is often yes, and then you will be better placed to understand the crucial insights he offers.

            1. Jeremy Grimm

              I tried. You may be right. I still think I might avoid Frank unless I can find more affable irony to savor. Without more context or a tone of voice both the affable and the irony are lost on me. Maybe I read too much Chris Hedges.

      2. Comradefrana

        “Are waiters or retail clerks, adjunct professors, or meat processing ‘technicians’ or the day laborers waiting for work in small crowds in the shade of a tree in the center of town … are they “working class” like coal miners or mill workers?”

        If you take the definition of working class as people who need to sell their labor to acquire basic necessities of life, then yes.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          Yes indeed they are working class by that definition and it is a standard understanding of the term. But are they the working class of the Marxist dialectic? How many among the “Creative Classes” sell their labor to to acquire basic necessities of life? They just have a different definition of “labor” and “basic necessities”. Where do you peg the dividing point between the “Creative Class” and the working class? The old definition was based on salary versus wage. What class holds school teachers?

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Please give credit to John Siman, who ed Frank, read his new book, conducted the interview, and wrote the post. The vagaries of WordPress mean that whoever loaded the post into the backstage is the one named in Recent Items.

  16. Uncle Dave

    First off, Bezos, the Clintons, Obama, etc, etc are not members of the 9.9%. But I am. And big news, I, a baby boomer, came out of the very middle of the middle class, as did my wife. We both went through public schools in the Los Angeles area: me in South Gate, she in San Pedro. And we met at UCLA, when tuition was $200/year. Today we are in the middle of your 9.9%. And we ended up there by dint of some luck in picking careers and the fact that the meritocracy worked for us. My parents were New Deal Democrats and so am I. So please, don’t look at us as the problem. But do look at us. What do you see? How about: an educational system that not only worked but was incredibly inexpensive. And also, back then, there were jobs, both white and blue collar (and unions). BTW, not for one minute have I ever forgotten where I came from.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      Uncle Dave, everything you say about yourself can be assumed to be true, but it doesn’t change much. Thomas Frank and others commenting here are not attacking you and those like you personally, but instead pointing out the workings and purposes of a particular class in maintaining and prospering from the mess we’re in.

      It’s not personal; it’s business.

      In class terms, it’s aggregates that matter, especially as they relate to production and investment in the economy, and control over the polity and State. From that class perspective, your/my/our personal political preferences are largely irrelevant, and sadly more akin to a consumer/lifestyle choice than to what we do at work.

      1. Julia Versau

        @Michael Fiorillo: A+
        Thank you for saying that.
        Also, I think only a member of the meritocratic class would make a special appeal for a personal exemption. Based on merit, of course …

      2. Seamus Padraig

        Exactly. In fact, at one point, Thomas Frank admits that he himself belongs to the “creative class” that is he criticizing.

    2. Will S.

      You may not be the problem, personally, but your class IS. Your anecdote is heartwarming but bears no relevance to the behavior of the 9.9% which, as have many petite bourgeoisie of the past, served as the footsoldiers of the ultra-wealthy in their war against the 90%. I will not lay the crimes of your class at your feet, but nor should you pretend your own virtuousness is reflective of the professional class as a whole.

    3. Fiery Hunt

      As a member of the 9.9% class, you have very much benefited from policies that a) made your start very inexpensive and b) have been walled off from the generations behind you. I’m gonna guess that 1) you’ve made a bundle off of Wall Street investments, 2) have very much been a beneficiary of the inflated asset bubble in housing these last 20 some-odd years. Those same systems that have put you in the 9.9% have led to record inequality, endless debts and record levels of deaths of despair for the rest of us.

      You can’t say the system worked for you and not acknowledge that it came at the expense of the other 90%.

    4. Copeland

      Not that you aren’t, but if a significant number of the 9.9% were New Deal Democrats, would we not have more -or at least some- of those in DC, right now?

  17. Arizona Slim

    Thanks for featuring this new book, NC. I just reserved at our local refuge from neoliberalism, home of the true sharing economy, aka the public library.

  18. precariat

    “Worse: they combine self-righteousness and class privilege in a way that Americans find stomach-turning…

    I would add insulting condescension to the list of stomach turners. That self-righteousness and hypocrisy was on display this past week: Obama, Booker, Senate Dems. They are so compromised by serving the corporate and wealthy classes they cannot act with integrity at a Senate hearing or speechify with an awareness of reality, much less counteract Trump effectively. They could have won the election this past week if they had any of the party’s previous values, but instead they chose — I’ll use Obama’s fav word during the ’08 prmaries — to bamboozle their potential voters.

  19. Scott1

    I began figuring out how to start a new nation of airports in 1978. So my reading was focused on military history and political science.
    I ended up my studies, as if preparing for real responsibilities with economics and finance. Hence it is that I read and contribute as I a able here.

    It is striking that Obama seemed to have no education in economics other than that used by the parasitical pirates. To this day I do not believe he knows what Modern Monetary Theory is.

    Sanders is said to refuse to use it. The other day Pelosi went backwards calling for Pay as You go Legislation. Stephanie Kelton said she was obviously economically illiterate. But she, Pelosi pledges to “Hang in there”.

    Now I am struggling with how might the ability of banks to create money with a Treasury monopoly on that power evidenced by insurance of money in bank accounts approximates Bi Metalism to the extent determined by what the banks loan for and what are their goals.
    If all of it as a work of conceptual art depends on trust, and Finance is not at all to be trusted to advance the goals of the nation as a whole, how long will Meyer Lansky Mobster Financial Engineering hold sway when represented as vital?

    How can it be vital when the Clinton Unit I laws and regulations that made the parasites so strong and well respected meant 9 million lost their homes and hit the road in their RVs
    as described in “Nomadland”?

    That is enough of a comment for some of you to maybe chew on?
    Certainly there is little reason to hope that the Government will be reformed, in a use of the word not twisted to mean deformed.
    The contest for the White house was between two jet setters. The prospect for it as being some numbers punched in, in 2018 and 2020, regardless of voting is greater than many want to face.
    Yeah, go vote.

  20. Jessica

    In addition to understanding experts as members of a class, it is useful to understand the nature of that class.
    Our 9.9% or whatever else we call them are the top servants of our current leading class, the 0.1%.
    The primary job of the 9.9% is to obscure the fact that our current social organization is obsolete, that we are running a knowledge-driven society with the sames rules as for the quite different capital-infrastructure-driven society that preceded it. Ironically, this means that the most important task of our experts is to create the artificial scarcity of knowledge that the controlling monopolies require. In other words, their main task is to create ignorance. The most important ignorance they must create is ignorance of the very fact that they are ignorance creators first and foremost.
    In order to ensure this most important ignorance, they need to be largely ignorant themselves of what they are really doing. In other words, our experts not only tend to buy their own nonsense just as leaders always have. On top of that, they are structurally required to believe their own nonsense or at least not see through it.
    The second key to understanding the Democratic Party is that because our current social structure is obsolete, our leading class has no actual purpose and therefore is fragmented. It can come together solely to defend its own zombie-like rule, but otherwise it is every bit to itself. That is why on the one hand, the Democratic Party functions as a major creator of ignorance on behalf of the leading class as a whole, on the other hand it works for its own interests, in other words the interests in the particular set of leaders of the Democratic Party. As such, it will even work against the interests of the leading class as a whole, primarily by being simply too obvious and too stupid even for an institution whose primary role is to generate ignorance.

    1. bruce wilder

      My one slight disappointment with Frank’s remarks had to do with Russia,Russia,Russia, on which subject he seemed to say, we don’t know, but may in the future. I, personally have allowed myself to be baited into trying to refute the R3 narrative, but I think your point is more revealing. The truth about Russia is far less important than the R3 narrative’s function in producing ignorance.

      And, this, indeed, a general function of the 9.9% — the production of ignorance, the social construction of unreality. It is also what neoclassical economics does in support of neoliberal economic policy.

      This really does seem to me a remarkable insight you have shared. Thanks.

    2. c_heale

      I don’t believe we are running a knowledge driven society. The so-called knowledge driven part of our society is overlaid on the industrial part of our society, which lies over our agricultural part of our society, which is on top of of our natural world – nature. Really we live in, and are completely dependent on our natural world, whether we like it or not. And we are blinded by these overlying parts to the fact that we are destroying our natural world. And if our natural world goes, then everything else goes with it, including us. Idiots like Bezos and Musk seem to think that they can somehow escape to Outer Space. I doubt very much this is possible, but I would be quite happy for them to try, a.s.a.p. preferably.

      1. oh

        Well said! I wish Bezos and Musk (along with others from Apple, Google, Facebook etc.) would get into their space ship and leave for outer space right now. Bon Voyage, monsieurs.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      I wonder how “survival-critical” the knowledge economy really is . . . as against being a self-hyping concept self-serving the Better-Than-You class who invented the phrase “knowledge economy”.

      Food will get you through times of no “knowledge economy” better than “knowledge economy” will get you through times of no food.

  21. The Rev Kev

    I suppose that you could say that a stress point with this ‘elitist’ class is that their competence has come into question. Actually, I would call it a fracture point. People on the whole can accept an elite over-class but only when they are proving competent in their job and this is not the case at present. Consider what they have done the past generation.
    They have helped impoverish whole western countries for the benefit of a tiny part of the population, they have done precious little to address the catastrophic effects of pollution and climate change and the ensuing sea levels rises, they have singularity failed to reform the financial system but have doubled down on the worst aspects of it, they have a noted inability to militarily win any wars that they engage in for a successful conclusion, their tone-deafness to criticism is becoming a noted characteristic of them along with their savage attacks on people noting their mistakes. Need I go on?
    In short, for all their education they are just not up to the job and people have realized this. It has gotten so bad that people are willing to take a chance on demagogues than have more of the same failed ideas and policies. ‘They have nowhere else to go’ is no longer a working concept and the grotesque dementia displayed over the past two years in the US alone is a sign of the inability of this elite over-class being unable to cope.

    1. fresno dan

      The Rev Kev
      September 11, 2018 at 8:12 pm

      …..the question becomes: Why did government-by-expert fail?

      JS: So how did this happen? Why?

      TCF: The answer is understanding experts not as individual geniuses but as members of a class. This is the great missing link in all of our talk about expertise. Experts aren’t just experts: They are members of a class. And they act like a class. They have loyalty to one another; they have a disdain for others, people who aren’t like them, who they perceive as being lower than them, and there’s this whole hierarchy of status that they are at the pinnacle of.
      =====================================================
      With apologies to Upton Sinclair. It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his tenure, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing, and last but not least….wait for it…..merit pay depend on him not understanding it.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        In good governments, experts exist to serve as staff to moral arbiters. If they do something else, they are perverting how the world needs to work. Think Spock and Kirk. Picard and Data. In both cases, the smartest and strongest individual was taking orders from a bald man with less abilities than the other two because they lacked sufficient moral fiber to make the right choice.

        Then of course, the relative cheapness information means that experts aren’t even that important anymore as the advice and memory they once brought to the table is easy to check.

        I’m reminded of the Middle Ages architects and builders behind the cathedrals of Europe. They didn’t decide when and where to build these churches. They were hired by governments which didn’t have cathedral builders. Government by experts or military decisions by the generals on the ground will fail because they are just staff at that point. They aren’t the leadership. They are getting paid. Of course, this was probably the point of the Vorgons. Bureacrats in the absence of moral leadership will just recite the third poetry in existence and seem better by being the lesser evil.

        1. fresno dan

          NotTimothyGeithner
          September 12, 2018 at 11:22 am

          I agree completely. I have no doubt that economists can provide better analysis on economic efficiency and increasing GDP than me or any non-economist….so what? I am interested in asking why policies implemented, apparently by the urgings of most economists, resulted in the ever increasing amount of inequality. Either they wanted this to happen, or maybe they are not as expert as they claim (I think they knew exactly what they were doing).
          But I don’t think we have had any leaders of the stature of Kirk or Picard in a long time. The “leaders” are getting the technocrats the leaders want to justify the plutocracy. You don’t get into the priesthood if you don’t believe in Catholicism…..

  22. audrey jr

    Thank you so very much, John Siman, for this most thoughtful post.
    Those of us who are regulars at NC do so appreciate how much work you put into interviewing Mr. Frank. You put the questions to him that I would have put to him were I the interviewer.
    This is my favorite site and your post was the first thing I read this morning.
    You really did make my day with your work.
    Thanks again.

  23. audrey jr

    I thought that I had just posted a thank you to John Siman.
    It may have disappeared into the ether but I do want to reiterate that bit of appreciation on my part anyhow.
    So, again, a big Thank You to John Siman for the interview with Thomas Frank.
    You asked questions which I would have had him answer had I been the interviewer.
    It was the first thing I read this morning. Great stuff.
    We need to talk about class.

    1. John Siman

      Hi, audrey jr! This is John Siman — I am so glad you enjoyed my interview! I think that Thomas Frank is the most insightful and important writer in the USA right now, and I hope that came across. He told me that he is now working on a book about Populism, and I asked him if I could, in a few months, talk to him about how it’s progressing — so I can’t wait!

      1. Epistrophy

        John – I second audrey jr and congratulate you for bringing Thomas Frank to us in this interesting interview. Excellent work!

  24. VietnamVet

    This is an excellent article. As a Veteran and as a retired lowest rung technocrat, the 10%’s lack of concern for the 90% rings true. The establishment is simply incapable of accepting that they are complicit in the fleecing of America’s middle class. Only the restart of the Cold War with Russia made me realize how toxic the current situation really is. The oligarchs and their technical staff cannot rule everyone else. The vestiges of Democracy still left elected Donald Trump. If a nuclear war is avoided in Syria; the corruption, climate change and the Sons of Toil realizing that were suckered by the Brahmans makes humans cooperating together for our survival questionable.

  25. Gary

    So much for the ‘workers are racist’ argument! – “Trump won whites with a college degree 49% to 45% “-

  26. everydayjoe

    Maybe this need to identify with a class/caste/group is part of our human DNA. The only way to fight this is evangelism of ideas of fairness, equality and empathy. What Serena Williams did for herself has to be done even if it is labelled as ugly. This is what the Sufragette’s did and so did Gandhi and Mandela etc People’s conscience needs to be periodically kindled.

  27. c_heale

    I think what Serena Williams did, was mainly due to her losing the match, not to any virtue on her part. If you call an umpire a thief, you are going to get a penalty. Likewise in soccer if you say the referee cheated or is biased, you are bringing the game into disrepute. In tennis, Serena Williams is one of the 1%. The liberal newspapers are full of articles defending her as some kind of feminist heroine, which in this case imo is nonsense. However, I also thought the Australian cartoon was full of racist tropes.

    1. oh

      She knew she was going to lose and thus created a distraction. She’s in the 1% all right and thinks that the US Open winner’s purse belonged to her and not to a Haitian-Japanese lower rung kid.

  28. Newton Finn

    Back in the Gilded Age, a forgotten genius named Edward Bellamy penned by far the greatest Socratic dialogue ever written concerning capitalism and socialism, the manifest evils of the former and the daunting obstacles to moving into the latter. For those willing to take a little time to read something extraordinary that may be 130 years old but could have been written yesterday, and which puts so much of our current political commentary to shame, I invite you to dive into, with delight, the first 21 pages of the free ebook linked below. The dialogue begins with the setting of the scene (via a synopsis of Bellamy’s “Looking Backward”) and ends with Edith’s final comment as she leaves the garden. For those whose appetites are whetted by this exploration, both of Bellamy’s masterworks, “Looking Backward” and “Equality,” are freely accessible on the net.

  29. Seamus Padraig

    He brought in [pause] Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard, considered the greatest economist of his generation — and, you know, go down the list: He had Nobel Prize winners, he had people who’d won genius grants, he had The Best and the Brightest. And they didn’t really deal with the problem. They let the Wall Street perpetrators off the hook — in a catastrophic way, I would argue.

    The thing is, that right there is when I knew Obama was a fraud. Larry Summers was one of the very people who had done so much to cause the problem in the first place, back during his tenure under Clinton in the 90s. Summers was always a Wall Street tool. In 2008, this country needed–at the very least–another Franklin Roosevelt. What we got instead was a second Bill Clinton. Sad …

    1. Oregoncharles

      Exactly, and not just Summers. Most of the others had similar disastrous, right-wing records; the Obama admin. could be, and was, predicted right then, from those appointments. Most of them were like Obama or the Clintons: smart, maybe, but devoid of personal integrity – and Summers, at least, had a record of incompetence.

      1. downunderer

        Actually, bringing in Summers was when I gave up on Obama, after his first economics appointees had pleased me greatly (including a Princeton econ prof who had specialized in and championed labor causes during her entire career). These early appointees were of course subsequently relegated to subservient positions and ignored, as best I recall. I figured that his owners had told him what the rules of the road were, and what happened to those who veered left. Whatever he really thought or wanted was clearly irrelevant from then on.

  30. Adam Eran

    I’m not sure “class” describes the people Frank describes. It’s more like “tribe,” or “cult.” Seriously. They have the same devotion to credentials and the neoliberal narrative. It’s like they’re in a hypnotic trance. Really. Sometimes they snap out of it, but doing so requires humility…and that’s not on the menu.

    Anyway, it’s human nature, not exclusive to Ivy Leaguers. Consider the Newtonian physicists’ response to Max Planck and his quanta (of “quantum mechanics” fame). These were not dummies, they were physicists…yet they thwarted Planck at every turn. His statement: “The truth never triumphs. It’s enemies simply die out. Science advances one funeral at a time.”

    Odd when life expectancy of the deniers is an impediment to the survival of the species…;-(

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