Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Reverse Cloward-Piven Strategy

Back in the 1960s a couple of lefty sociologists came up with a grand plan.  Richard Cloward (1926–2001) and Frances Fox Piven (b. 1932) that called for overloading the U.S. public welfare system in order to precipitate a crisis that would lead to a replacement of the welfare system.Their idea was to replace the welfare system with a guaranteed annual income.

The idea behind the Cloward-Piven strategy is that when the system gets overloaded the poor will take to the streets to demand change and the establishment will, in order to prevent riots and mayhem, accede to the just demands of the poor and the underprivileged.  Some people think that Barack Obama is implementing a Cloward-Piven strategy as he expands government and chokes the private sector.

When people worry that another four years of Obama would be the end of the United States, they are buying into the assumptions of the Cloward-Piven strategy.  They are thinking that once Obama overloads the system it will end up as a European social democracy with a wall-to-wall administrative state.

Don't foreget that conservatives have a kind of reverse Cloward-Piven strategy.  It is what I call the Irving Kristol rule.  Conservatives should not be green eyeshade accountants and try to balance the budget, wrote Kristol back in the 1980s.  They should just adhere to a rule of tax cuts.  Cut taxes as deeply and as broadly as politically possible.

Yes, but what if the government runs out of money?  What if we have to cut programs?

Exactly.  That is not a bug, but a feature.

The question is: what happens when the government runs out of money?  Do the streets run with blood?  Or does something else happen?  Does the underclass, what used to be called the "mob," set the city afire?  Does the middle class demand that the rich "pay a little more" or does the middle class demand that the government cuts the waste?

One thing to remember.  Back in the days of the Paris Commune it was possible for rebels to build street barricades and hold up in the dense "rookeries" in which the poor lived.  But the French government found an answer to that.  It built broad boulevards, according to the plan of Baron Haussmann, to make it easy for the army to march to any troublespot, and it demolished the rookeries.  Think 20th century slum clearance in the USA.

Obviously, if you look at the Euro economy in Europe and the Obama economy in the US you can say that the jury is still out.  The European ruling class is trying to kick the can down the road with bailouts and money printing.  But the current benefits cannot be paid, so something will change.

Probably in Europe the Latin countries will leave the Euro and devalue.  The Nordic countries will leave the Euro and continue to work and save. (Because the Germans fixed their labor market problems back in the 2000s.)

Here in the US I suspect that we will see something different.  First of all, the Cloward-Piven strategy actually got implemented without a crisis.  We now have, informally, a guaranteed income of about $30,000 a year for a single parent with a couple of children.  And it happened without riots.

We have had riots, of course.  There were the Watts riots and Detroit riots in the 1960s.  And the LA riots over the Rodney King verdict.  But the riots didn't topple the regime.  They just resulted in the destruction and demoralization of the black neighborhoods where the riots occurred.  In LA during the Rodney King riots the liberal Hollywood types stood guard with shotguns at the entrances to their winding upscale drives.

On the other hand, the middle class has had something to say whenever the government has screwed up the economy or society in the last half century, and every time it has had its way.  It turned against the Democrats in 1968 after the Sixties and elected Richard Nixon for law-and-order.  It turned against President Carter in the stagflation of the late 1970s.  It turned against President Clinton in 1994 when he lurched left.  The middle class lurched left when President Bush presided over the Crash of 2008 and then turned on a dime and lurched right when President Obama refused to prioritize the economy over the left-wing Obamacare.  The middle class always votes for stability.

So what do you think the middle class is thinking in 2012?  What would you do in the stagnant economy of 2012 if the presidential race were a contest between a Cloward-Piven community activist and a corporate and administrative turn-around expert?

Golly.  I just can't figure that one out.  It's too hard!

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