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The Sudden Unpopularity of Neoliberal Centrists

On Friday, Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic senator and 2020 presidential candidate, pledged that her administration would, “make big, structural changes to the tech sector to promote more competition — including breaking up Amazon, Facebook, and Google.” This would consist of two steps, she wrote.

First, large tech platforms would be, “designated as ‘Platform Utilities’ and broken apart from any participant on that platform.” Platform Utilities, “would be required to meet a standard of fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory dealing with users,” and, “would not be allowed to transfer or share data with third parties.” In practice, this would designate Amazon Marketplace, Google’s ad exchange, and Google Search as Platform Utilities, thus requiring them to be split off from the rest of Amazon’s and Google’s services, respectively.

Second, her administration, “would appoint regulators committed to reversing illegal and anti-competitive tech mergers.” She specifically mentions Amazon’s ownership of Whole Foods and Zappos, Facebook’s ownership of WhatsApp and Instagram, and Google’s ownership of Waze, Nest, and Doubleclick.

In an article in the Washington Post, tech and policy writers Tony Romm and Brian Fung note that Warren’s pledge, “sent shock waves through Silicon Valley, where for years, tech companies enjoyed close ties to national Democrats who wanted to burnish their digital credentials and benefit from tech executives’ deep pockets.” This is rapidly changing, Romm and Fung note, suggesting that tech experts, “fear other Democratic presidential hopefuls soon would follow her lead.”

In an appeal to these ties, The Computer and Communications Industry Association, “a trade group that represents Amazon, Facebook and Google,” according to Romm and Fung, published a response saying that Warren’s pledge, “is misaligned with progressive values, many of which are shared within the tech industry.”

There’s nothing unusual historically about progressives wanting to break up powerful corporations, of course. And while some conservatives have criticised the early Democratic primary discourse for being mired in political correctness, there’s none of that in Warren’s pledge, which is more old-school progressive. So why were tech leaders so surprised? Well, part of the reason seems to be, as the CCIA response alludes to, that many of them think of themselves as progressive, and therefore as allies.

A similar dynamic appeared to play out earlier this year, when former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz came under heavy attack by progressives after announcing he was considering a presidential bid as an independent. Some of the animosity towards Schultz stems from the possibility of him drawing votes from the Democratic candidate and thus helping Donald Trump get re-elected—a reaction he might have expected—but it’s evident that the dislike of him goes beyond that, and surely took him by surprise. After all, not only was Schultz until recently a lifelong Democrat, but as Fortune’s Beth Kowitt points out, he was, “one of the early leaders of the CEO activist movement,” championing a number of progressive causes.

It seems clear that the type of progressivism that Schultz and many tech leaders subscribe to, one that seeks to combine social progressivism with relatively laissez-faire capitalism, is quickly going out of fashion. In fact, what’s especially interesting is the extent to which this position has become disliked across the political spectrum. A poll of Schultz’s candidacy revealed a remarkably consistent negative opinion of him across not just Democrats and Republicans, but Independents as well.

(Tech leaders seem to engender similarly broad dislike across the political spectrum, which also means that it’s not only progressives who are concerned about their influence. As Romm and Fung point out, “[a] key federal watchdog agency in the Trump administration just this month commissioned a new task force to study if big tech had become too big.” This might be one area where conservatives and progressives can agree.)

It’s perhaps not surprising that progressives dislike the economic inequality produced by the laissez-faire part of this political position, and that conservatives dislike the social disruption caused by the social progressivism. What seems to have changed is the number of people in the centre who think it’s a good compromise; there just aren’t that many of them anymore. In fact, popular figures like Fox News’s Tucker Carlson reject not just one of these elements, but both. (In an interview last year, Carlson advocated for the government taking a larger role in regulating the economy, including potentially banning driverless vehicles to prevent job-loss, while also criticising social progressivism.)

Clinton and Blair were early adopters of the “third way”

For better or worse, this position, popularised during the 1990s by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, and sometimes referred to as the “Third Way,” seems to face growing resistance. But why, and why now? The simplest answer is that the rise in income inequality experienced in many Western countries has led to increasing scepticism towards laissez-faire capitalism. Yet, there is also an additional factor that I think is worth considering, and which can help explain some of the more recent resistance to Third Way, or neoliberal centrism among progressives. More importantly, it might help us understand where this is headed in the future.

*  *  *

It’s easy to think of social progressivism as the pursuit of a set of relatively independent causes: gay marriage, gun control, universal health care. This is presumably how Schultz, for example, thinks of it. In that case, one’s position of various socially progressive issues would seem to have little to do with one’s support for capitalism. One might even say that capitalism provides the resources for these things to be pursued, and therefore that social progressivism and laissez-faire capitalism are mutually supportive. This is essentially the Third Way argument.

The problem with this view, though, is that it takes a highly simplistic view of what social progressivism entails. The vast majority of social progressivism done by corporations, for example, does not involve the pursuit of specific political issues. Rather, it’s discursive. When Nike makes Colin Kaepernick one of the faces of its brand, when Gillette develops an ad critical of toxic masculinity, when Disney puts out social justice-oriented movies, they’re not so much pursuing specific political issues as lending their financial and cultural power towards the promotion of socially progressive norms. In many cases, these initiatives are tied to their brand and products.

For every ad a corporation runs encouraging people to vote for a political initiative, it runs a hundred ads presenting a product or service through the lens of a socially progressive narrative, say, of female empowerment or racial diversity or sexual liberation or some other broad social norm. Corporate involvement in social progressivism, for the most part, is about changing society through social norms.

This is also true for individuals. The socially progressive culture at elite American colleges that writer and former lecturer William Deresiewicz describes in a 2017 essay for The American Scholar, for example, has very little to do with specific political policies. It’s almost entirely about broad social norms for speech and behaviour, especially relating to race, gender, and sexuality, that students impose on themselves and each other.

This is how humans operate: we engage with each other through social norms, and being socially progressive entails to a large extent changing and/or enforcing certain norms. Specific political positions are just the tip of the iceberg. And, of course, these norms aren’t arbitrary, they tie into particular ideologies and narratives.

Consider this recent Budweiser ad, which the company says is part of an initiative of, “reimagining our ads of the past to better portray balance and empowerment.”

Budweiser isn’t just advocating gender equality here, it’s expressing a historical critique. This approach reflects a methodology broadly known as critical theory, and it does so in two implicit ways. First, through the view of advertising as a driver of social norms—an important area of concern for early critical theorists—which it seeks here not only to critique, but also to reimagine as a way to encourage reflection and thus new social norms. Second, as a penetrating historical critique that seeks to identify oppressive social structures.

It is important to understand that critical theory originally developed as a critique not of the patriarchy or whiteness, but of capitalism, following the work of Karl Marx. Indeed, Marxism represents what might be described as a paradigm—in the language of Thomas Kuhn—for these other fields of analysis: it articulates a certain set of problems and methods for solving them that open up avenues of scholarly pursuit.

Progressives—and this includes corporations attempting to engage in social progressivism—don’t just talk about gender or racial equality as atemporal values, they increasingly couch them in narratives of overcoming oppression. So, rather than say they support gender equality, they’ll say that we need to dismantle the patriarchy, and rather than say they support racial equality, they’ll say that we need to dismantle whiteness.

This doesn’t mean that everyone who critiques the patriarchy or whiteness are Marxists, obviously. What it means is that to a large degree, the ways they problematise their focus of analysis and the methods they use to address these problems reflect those originally applied by Marx to capitalism. Indeed, the concept of “wokeness,” used by many progressives to describe a person’s awakening to the tacitly oppressive nature of the patriarchy or of whiteness, reflects the way Marx thought about capitalism.

And this brings us to the relation between social progressivism and capitalism. As progressives come to see the world through the lens of oppressive systems that must be dismantled, it stands to reason they’d be more inclined to view capitalism as one such system. It’s also plausible that young progressives would find Marxism appealing when encountering it, even if it was never promoted to them. People recognise patterns, and people who are raised on a moral worldview constructed around fighting and dismantling oppressive systems would quite likely recognise this feature in Marxism and find it intuitively appealing.

This is especially relevant with the mainstreaming of intersectionality as an analytical framework. Here, people are represented as being intersected by a number of oppressive systems, including capitalism. Now, some people have argued that intersectionality with all its many different systems of oppression, especially those related to race, gender, and sexuality, shift the focus away from class. (And thus from wealthy individuals and corporations.) This is true, but probably only for the short term. In the long term, it seems apparent that capitalism will become more and more central.

Ultimately, there’s a good argument that corporations and wealthy individuals who engage in modern social progressivism with its basis in critical theory are sawing the branch they’re sitting on. While they might themselves see no conflict between laissez-faire capitalism and social progressivism, they’re contributing to the build-up of a mainstream worldview that sees society as consisting of oppressive systems to be dismantled, and capitalism naturally fits at the top of the intersectional matrix.

Add to this a culture where attacks on privilege have become quite common and where people are fearful of being associated with it, and where anything that can be construed as a defence of privilege is considered unacceptable, and now imagine that this shifts from racial- and gender privilege to class privilege, even to a modest degree. I suspect we’re going to see more instances like this, where people like Schultz all of a sudden find themselves under attack by progressives and are blindsided by it.

Uri Harris is on Twitter @safeortrue.


  1. E. Olson says

    Purchase a few cents worth of coffee from impoverished 3rd world coffee farmers, mix with a few cents worth sugar, milk (or non-dairy substitute), and spices, put the contents into a environmentally unfriendly plastic cup with prominent corporate logo, serve it up via blue-haired, tattooed, and pierced gender studies major working for minimum wage, and charge $5+ for the Starbucks experience, which was formerly provided by local mom and pop coffee shops charging 50 cents per cup. Follow up by contributing a small pittance of the profits to social justice causes and Democrat candidates for office, and tell the public you wish to be taxed more while doing everything in your power to shield your corporate profits, top .1% personal income, and billions in wealth from taxation. What could anyone possibly hate about that?

    Give people free web-browsers and monitor the type of searches each person makes, and/or give free space on the Internet so that users can create personal pages full of intimate details about their lives and interests, and make your profit by selling user search patterns and personal details to giant corporations, as well as charge big money so that corporations can direct advertising towards users who are most likely to buy. Follow up by monitoring and blocking “hate speech” content as defined by demographically diverse Leftist staff, contribute a small pittance of the profits to social justice causes and Democrat candidates for office, and tell the public you wish to be taxed more while doing everything in your power to shield your corporate profits, top .1% personal income, and billions in wealth from taxation. What could anyone possibly hate about that?

    • Erica from the West Village says

      That’s a very cynical view of a corporation that is the embodiment of service-oriented leadership and progressivism.

      I’m a conservative and yet I think Howard Schultz is the best thing that could happen to the Democrat Party in 2020…by far.

      The rest of you are hell-bent on an ideological utopian journey that ends very very badly for you.

      There are nearly 330,000,000 Americans, 80% of whom get a voice in who represents us in government at the local, state and federal level.

      YOU…are but 25% of the fringe of 50% of the Democrat party, meaning your voice may be loud and boisterous, but your actual vote totals are 1/4 of 1/2 which, if my public school math still works…is about 12.5% of the nation.

      Do you honestly think your 12.5% are going to trump the 88.5% who don’t want, like, or adhere to your AltLeft politics…let alone your policies?

      It’s time to grow up.
      It’s time to come back to the middle and accept that no matter how loud you scream, the reality is the physics of the world dominate..and the physics of politics demands that the bell curve see equal distribution of ideology across the spectrum.

      Otherwise, we get out of balance and Democrats try to defy logic and nominate someone who’s under criminal investigation by the FBI and the R’s nominate someone who threatens the very existence of the ESTABLISHMENT.

      The irony of this all (of course) is that Sanders and Trump are two peas in a pod.

      They are both Independent Nationalist Populists.

      The only problem for your side is that Sanders wraps himself with a Socialist label while Trump wears the red, white and blue Capitalist cape.

      With your 12.5% screaming it’s Bernie Time….you’re ignoring the reality that the only way you’re going to get Socialism and break apart the institutions that have made this country great is to pack up and move to Caracas, Havana, or maybe even to Beijing.

      Good luck with that.

      • E. Olson says

        Erica – I enjoy the fact that you think I’m a Bernie Sanders fan, it just goes to show how easy it is for Rightists to accurately recite the Leftist position on virtually every issue. My main point, however, was that the “obscene” capitalism of Google, Facebook, Starbucks, etc. are a natural enemy of the Left, while the extreme Left-Wing politics and activism of the leadership (and much of the rank and file) of most of these “new economy” companies will also make them few friends on the Right side of the aisle. Thus these new “masters of the universe” are creating a situation where everyone across the political spectrum will hate them, although only the Left is likely to regulate them, tax them, or jail them out of existence.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @E. Olson

          My Grand Conspiracy Theory is that Social Justice was invented by the global plutocracy as a diversion. Schultz would be the perfect example — woke, but very rich. So, yes, the globalists would be woke in every way, but will it come back to bite them? Will the Warriors woke again and rediscover the old intersection: rich vs. poor? That is that, say, Hillary, however intersectional she may be, is really just a mega-rich white lady? Will Dr. F. be killed by his own monster eventually?

          But most of the woke are themselves rich white girls. Will the zombies start eating each other? Well, yes, they eat each other all the time. Perhaps the global plutocrats will simply pull the plug when the time comes by defunding the universities.

          Anyway E, I can’t help but notice that you sound very much like me above. I can understand why Erica thought you a Sandernista.

          • Peter from Oz says

            Good point Ray
            The question is whether they are rich because they are progressive or progressive because they are rich.

          • K. Dershem says

            @Ray, a lot of academic writing on “microaggressions” and “intersectionality” amounts to a virtue-signaling version of mental masturbation. I think you’re right that it’s mostly a distraction. While the “woke” left has focused on identity politics, the right has won local, state (provincial) and federal elections and appointed judges that support a corporate agenda. While SJWs obsess over imagined problems and criticize candidates for not being ideologically pure — or for committing the unforgivable sin of being a white male — the right has amassed political power and used it to enact its economic agenda.

        • TarsTarkas says

          Capitalism is obscene because to be Woke is to be broke or deeply in debt, and Zuckerberg, Schultz, Gates, et al aren’t broke. Wokers are perfectly fine with monopolies as long as they are government monopolies, because that way the incompetents can rise to the top and control them. Private monopolies or oligopolies, not so much.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @K. Dershem

            Yup. Maybe the plutocrats are just taking advantage of their opportunities to score while the opposition is temporarily insane, but the thing is so perfect that I can’t help but believe it’s been orchestrated. Or maybe no one is that clever.

      • Norm from AOCland says

        @ Erica

        “[T]he physics of politics demands that the bell curve see equal distribution of ideology across the spectrum”

        I’ll agree with that much. As we’re forced into a two-party system, we’ve divided along psychologically primordial lines: The Father/Individual/Self-reliance or right-wing party in opposition to the Mother/Collective/Community-support or left-wing party. They’re never going away. And so in the US, no matter how corrupt and decrepit, we can never seem to kill off either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party.

        But you seem clearly oblivious to the dimension that matters. Those two circuses provide cover for the more effective divide. It’s just as primordial and ever-present: The top and bottom portions of power (primarily, but not exclusively, wealth). The same tug of war happens. But here, in 2019, it’s become completely one-sided: There is now the Money Party, vs. the … um, nothing.

        Hence, weird things start to happen: The (inexplicable to you) nomination of two flagrant criminals. One came from the establishment, because the Money Party (who could not be opposed) decided to put her there; the other also came from the establishment (while claiming to be opposed to it), because that same Money Party put him there, thinking he was a slam-dunk comical pushover. Proof is found in what’s happened in the White House the last two years. And I don’t mean what’s reported in our late, great “press.”

        If you are in the top – that is, the protected – class you have the luxury of believing the fantasy that “80% of whom get a voice in who represents us.” Um, no. We don’t. You need to study up. Otherwise, you can think, and think nothing of saying, things as foolishly condescending as “It’s time to grow up.”

      • Joseph says

        Judging by your comment you must know very little about politics in America and politics in general. You made so many misleading and wrong statements I’ll have to go line by line to correct it.

        First up, Howard Schultz. He polling terribly right now (4%) and any excitement for him is coming from the top down. I’m not sure what you mean by “best thing” that could happen to the party but speaking from the numbers he’s not making any impact in the party, the only reason he has a voice is because he’s a wealthy.

        Second, you literally made up every one of those statistics about the Democratic Party and then used them as evidence. Let’s take a look at the popularity of one “AltLeft” policy proposal to see how wrong you are. Mecicare For All is polling at 70% in America, even a majority (52%) of Republicans support it.

        Third, the “middle” you’re referring to is middle-right. The overton window in America has been pulled so far to the right that they make Bernie Sanders look like he’s on the opposite side of the spectrum when that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you take a step back you’ll realize that the Republican Party has gone off the charts to the right and Bernie is actually a moderate leftist.

        Fourth, If you’re referring to Hillary Clinton who was under investigation as a nominee then I agree. She’s was a terrible candidate and corrupt politician. You then went on to say that Trump threatens the “very existence of the ESTABLISHMENT”… This statement in itself shows your ignorance when it comes to actually policy. The establishment dislikes Trump because he’s unpolished and he Tweets mean things. I’ll give Trump credit when he does occasionally buck orthodoxy but that’s pretty rare. Other than that, the establishment loves him. He has the wealthiest administration in American history, they intensified the regulatory capture to levels unheard of and his tax bill gave them (and himself) trillions. He’s also (with the help of Democrats) inflated the military budget to it’s highest ever and has ramped up military operations like never before.

        Fifth, you actually said that “Sanders and Trump are two peas in a pod”… Trump says many things (lies) and contradicts himself often so you could probably find many instances in which Trump’s and Sander’s rhetoric overlap. That being said, in regard to ACTUAL policy implementation they are polar opposites. You labeled both of them wrong, Bernie Sanders is a Independent Leftist Populist while Trump is a Republican Faux Populist. I say faux populist because his rhetoric is populist while his policies are not.

        Lastly, Sanders is a Social Democrat (he calls himself a Democratic Socialist but that’s not accurate) not a “Socialist”. The fact that you mislabelled him as such suggests one of two things: either you don’t know the difference or you intentionally misrepresented his position. Countries that follow Sander’s flavor of politics are Scandinavia, Iceland and Denmark, all three of which have better reported happiness and health than the US.

        • Grant says


          Bernie Sanders doesn’t have Scandinavia at all in mind. He wants their social progressiveness but by very different means. Scandinavia ‘ain’t the old Scandinavia, they’ve learned their lessons. Bernie is stuck in 1950.
          As for support of Medicare for all shows how truly ignorant and uniformed the American public is. They are apparently gullible enough to believe that Medicare actually pays the bills for the services rendered to it. It’s laughable. The majority want it because they want lower medical insurance premiums and who the hell can blame them, but when private insurer’s dollars dry up, so will the services. Believe me, I know rationing of care is inevitable to bring costs down. People want all the cake but don’t want to pay for it.

        • Stephanie says

          Joseph, following up on Grant’s point, polling also shows that Americans are in favour of Medicare for all until they see what it will cost them. You can’t have Scandinavia-like social services without Scandinavia-like taxes. Very little appetite for that in the US.

        • Peter Schaeffer says

          J, “The overton window in America has been pulled so far to the right”

          On some economic issues that is true. Income inequality has risen substantially. Unions have declined a lot. “Free trade” has become some sort sacred value (on the left and right). Cheap labor is now viewed as virtue (on the left and right). The minimum wage has declined in real terms. Most workers earned more (per week) in 1973 than they do now. Wall Street has replaced main street as the core of the U.S. economy.

          However, on social issues the trend has been massively to the left (very far left). Imaginary ‘white supremacy’ is now commonly attacked. ‘Toxic Masculinity’ is now supposedly a problem. Illegal aliens are now called ‘undocumented immigrants’. Extreme anti-white racism is now mainstream and acceptable. Third-term abortion is now promoted as a ‘right’. Biology has replaced with Lysenkoism. Racial quotas are commonplace (essentially universal). The list goes on and on.

          The general trends of US (and Western) society don’t fit into a simple trend to the right / trend to the left paradigm.

          • One of the larger misconepmiscon about the growing income inequality is that it is because people are growing poorer. However, it is because the middle class has grown into the upper middle class and the upper middle class has moved into the upper class. Even the lowest class has shrunk as people moved into higher wage classes. What we have been left with is a small, recalcitrant lower class (for whatever reason) who have better standards of living then the middle class or even most of the wealthy did in 1900. In the west even most living below poverty have a better standard of living then most of the rest of the world.

        • Peter Schaeffer says

          J, “The overton window in America has been pulled so far to the right”. Go read the James Damore memo and replace ‘right’ with ‘left” and you will be closer to the truth.

        • Dave Bowman says

          the only reason he has a voice is because he’s wealthy.

          the only reason he has a voice is because he’s a billionaire Jew.

          Fixed that for you. You’re welcome.

      • Pannobhasa says

        You are trying to persuade with rational argumentation, but as we all know, rational argumentation is a tool of white patriarchal oppression.

    • david of Kirkland says

      And yet people seem to choose them, thus showing that your opinion is incorrect compared to their actions. Actions speak louder than grumbling words. Fortunately, not are necessary services, nor are any monopolies, but that doesn’t mean they don’t do unfair business practices.

    • “What could anyone possibly hate about that?”
      Quite right! People are very unfair to such corporations and billionaires. I, for one, welcome our new corporate overlords!

    • Peter from Oz says

      I am very proud that Starbucks failed in Australia.

  2. Jack B. Nimble says

    “….For every ad a corporation runs encouraging people to vote for a political initiative, it runs a hundred ads presenting a product or service through the lens of a socially progressive narrative….”

    This take seems wildly inaccurate. Even if the 1:100 ratio is true, it ignores the contributions that corporations make to political action committees and to innocuous-sounding front groups like Americans For Prosperity or American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC] that pursue conservative aims. Most corporations contribute to both major parties, to hedge their bets.

    Also, corporations will often engage in green-washing or pink-washing–contributing to progressive environmental or gay rights organizations–as a way to take the spotlight off their own corporate practices. Dollar for dollar, a contribution to, say, the Sierra Club will generate more positive publicity for a corporation than spending on cleaning up their own waste dumps.

    Corporations that are household names spend money protect their brand image, even if they don’t sell directly to the public. For example, look at all the media ads aimed at the general public that Boeing buys. But behind the scenes, what these companies crave most is ACCESS in Washington, DC. Last week, Boeing’s CEO called Trump to personally assure him that the new 737s were safe, and Trump initially believed him. Is that somehow related to the fact that Boeing contributed about $1 million to Trump’s over-priced inauguration in 2017?

    • Hamilton Sunshine says

      Isn’t what you juat said, basically what the author is saying? That corporations aren’t doing it to be good, they’re doing it for themselves, to gain access to us and access to politicians.

      • Jack B. Nimble says

        @Hamilton Sunshine

        Well, the author implies that corporations are operating from an ideological viewpoint when they support progressive causes, but if corporations really had a leftist ideology, they wouldn’t be supporting Republicans and causes like AFP and ALEC, especially in their soft money contributions. The most significant political spending by Boeing, for example, doesn’t mention the Boeing brand.

        Also, the author doesn’t mention buying political influence or green-washing. Those are better perspectives than ideology for understanding political spending by corporations.

  3. It will be interesting to see these companies reach out to the right saying “save us from the mob!!” If the Republicans has any sense, when that time comes they’d tell the companies to pound sand and sleep in the bed they made.

  4. Jose says

    I really liked this article as it showed something that Tucker Carlson put in his book Ship of Fools in a more concise manner.

    Essentially tech giants and these large lumbering mega corporations like Starbucks are able to buy indulgences from the church of social justice and at the same time ignore the economic stagnation for the majority of their workers that they no longer feel is their problem. Uber is able to play a semantic trick by saying all their workers are just contractors and therefore avoid paying any vacation time, sick time or healthcare. They make enough in profits to cover all that but it is so much cheaper to just buy these indulgences by tweeting support for those against the immigration ban rather than actually take care of their employees. According to a study Tucker sites most of the Uber drivers lose money driving for Uber rather than actually turn a profit. I don’t imagine it is a fun job either as I purposely take the subway to avoid traffic in the city. Let us not forget Uber is very excited for buying a fleet of autonomous cars so once that technology is introduced there is no reason to ever have a human Uber driver again.

    It is just so much easier to point to a demographic group that is doing well economically, even though as Tucker points out whites with only a high school education are earning less, dying earlier and living more unhealthy lives than just a generation earlier. As they become a dwindling part of the country demographically and economically they will become an easier target and a welcomed target by the elites as the elites no longer have to be held accountable for improving the lives of the people who work for and under them. Why raise the wages of employees if you can essentially pocket the difference and cover yourself socially by just indulging in the views of the radical on twitter.

    I don’t completely share Tucker’s view of the economic stagnation and easy scapegoat though as I believe the people at the top and working in the high end jobs at these companies largely do believe what they say. Most of us are not Machiavelli and we tend to have our own core beliefs that drive us and can cause us to look at life in a particular way. I believe the people at the top of these companies are largely driven by compassion and thinking they are making the world a better place without realizing where they might be wrong. Howard Schultz I think is genuinely driven by a desire to make the world better. The founder and chief operating officers at Uber I think are far more calculating.

    • Ray Andrews says


      “I believe the people at the top of these companies are largely driven by compassion and thinking they are making the world a better place”

      But we are very good at telling ourselves we believe things even tho we know perfectly well we do not believe them. PC is a creed that the Correct ‘believe’ even tho they know it all to be lies. But it is often inconvenient to admit to ourselves what we all know perfectly well, so we do not admit it. So, yes, the CEOs tell themselves that they are driven by compassion, and no doubt many of them succeed in fooling themselves. If you asked, say, Zuckerberg if he believed that men and women were exactly identical in coding ability he would of course say ‘yes’ even tho he knows perfectly well that that is nonsense — but he would not know that he was lying to himself because he chooses not to know it.

      • Jose says

        I was going to say I don’t know if they actually know “The Blank Slate” hypothesis and postulation to be completely unfounded but I do think you are right that they know it to be untrue but I think only on a subconscious level.

        For example, write any book, essay or journal article about the inherent differences between men and women or the different racial groups and you will get nothing but outrage even for the mildest proposal that genetics and environment play a role in human development and achievement.

        I think there is a cognitive dissonance that the political left wants to dearly believe is true or to at least let it continue on while they themselves do not practice what they preach in their own personal lives.

        The recent article on Quillette about attraction and the dating market is a good example I think. How many on the political left would say all people are equal yet at the same time would not distribute likes to everyone equally on those dating apps. Everyone is not equal and they would practice that in their own lives by just who they choose to date or mate with.

        The only way that I can picture people on the political left able to uphold that principal that all people are born equal with equal capabilities and likeness is that they believe for only certain compartments of what it means to be a human.

        I really believe people on the political left when they say that human intelligence is equal among all people even when they see the developmentally slow struggle. That seems to be the one principal they will never let go of no matter how disproved it is.

        To say that humans differ genetically is to essentially open yourself up to attack almost like a heretic.

        • Ray Andrews says


          Yup. All the posturing is Emperor’s New Clothes, with the exception that that tale does not capture the fact that we really can convince ourselves that we see the clothes.

          “the political left wants to dearly believe is true”

          IMHO, whereas people have always been capable of believing things they know to be nonsense, what is different today is that we live in the age of St. John’s ‘Imagine’ , where the act of wishful thinking is in itself holy, and where, if we only all Imagined hard enough, it would become so. Thus, when it comes to racial differences — which just about every decent person wishes where not there — the Correct believe that if the whole world would just Imagine that those differences were not there, then they would not be there. As another song said: “You just have to wish to make it so.” Meanwhile the more devoutly you believe in things that aren’t true, the holier you look.

    • Grant says


      I watched Tucker’s segment about self driving cars, but unlike the author I don’t think he was advocating for a ban, but advocating for a plan to deal with people who will be displaced. I think most of our imaginations fail when it comes to anticipating how the world will be different as technology proceeds. If the past is a predictor, then people will find a way. We were all farmers not too long ago don’t you know. But for the generation that suffers, it’s little comfort
      A great deal of money is flowing towards technology and the talent able to create it is increasingly those who are mentally up on the bell curve. The demand for those individuals rises and so does their compensation. But it happens in every part of commerce.
      There is a growing class of people who’s wages are stagnant and their prospects more limited. The question is, what to do about it?

      • Stephanie says

        Grant, Tucker Carlson told Ben Shapiro on his Sunday Special that he was advocating for a straight-line ban on self-driving vehicles, to protect the million + truckers out there. He wasn’t talking about retraining, although that is where the conversation really needs to happen.

  5. “They make enough in profits to cover all that but it is so much cheaper to just buy these indulgences by tweeting support for those against the immigration ban rather than actually take care of their employees. “

    No one is forced to work for Uber. The concept of a company taking “care” of its employees is very patriarchal, ironically. The old Soviet approach where your work and social life were all tied together one and the same. They owned you because they “take care of you”. This is sadly, the normal. Guaranteed public sector pensions work the same way and are insidious.

    It’s so much easier to control a population that is bound by such things. It’s harder to control independent Main Street. But it’s practically dead. Too much government regulation and taxing. I have come to the conclusion people demand rights but with no responsibility.

    • Jose says

      I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. I do generally agree with you on the pensions as we are told we are being promised a retirement and the companies we work for are free from any of that responsibility. In 2034 the cash reserves for social security are projected to be depleted. It is effectively making a promise we know we cannot keep while at the same time using those funds as a sort redistribution effort. It was seemingly set up as a Ponzi scheme where the newer generation is forced to subsidize the older generation and the government hopes we die sooner so we are no longer a liability.

      I agree no one is forced to work for Uber and I think that paper Tucker quotes might not be capturing the entire story as I can picture some Uber drivers just do it as a sort of weekend activity or very rarely so they have no motivation to break even. I bring it up because it is something that Tucker rightly points out is an inconsistency on the left. The political left demands employees be given healthcare so this major company says these are not employees and contractors in response. There was some outrage but nothing as fervent as the outrage we saw from Charlottsville. When Mozilla Firefox’s CEO was found to have funded Proposition 8 in California he was forced to step down in 2014 due to the fervent outrage. When Uber does something so damaging to their employees (from that perspective of the compassionate left) there are articles but a perverse lack of similar outrage.

      Uber was effectively able to quell any left leaning outrage and avoid it by just acting politically on their side and could weather the fallout of their subversion of the left’s own rules on healthcare by just having the correct social views. Meanwhile Firefox could have been giving all of it’s employees thousands of dollars in benefits but cross one line in the realm of “correct” social opinion and you are effectively a pariah.

      • Jack B. Nimble says


        Your claim that Social Security is a “Ponzi” scheme would be startling, if it were true. Instead, your whole post shows a level of economic ignorance that is breathtaking. For example:

        “…In 2034 the cash reserves for social security are projected to be depleted…..”

        There are NO cash reserves, and if the government were holding on to trillions of dollars in cash to pay future benefits, that would be a huge drag on the economy. Even conservative economists acknowledge that. Instead, the excess SS tax that current workers pay [above that needed to fund current retirees] is invested in US government securities. In effect, the government is lending itself money out of one pot into another. You can call that a Ponzi scheme, but the only other economically productive solution would have been to buy stocks and corporate bonds with the excess tax revenue–and that would be TRUE socialism.

        Should Social Security have been funded as a paygo system from the start? Maybe, but it was founded during the Depression and one goal was to put money into peoples’ pockets in the 1930s, not in the 1960s when a paygo system would have started to pay benefits. These are legacy costs that the government continues to pay out, due to decisions made by generations long past–no different really from benefits paid to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars, for example.

        Also, even after 2034 recipients will still get 80% of their benefit, and small changes now would ensure that the system remains solvent indefinitely. The only reason that small changes in the program aren’t being made is because of the current gridlock in Washington.

        “……some Uber drivers just do it as a sort of weekend activity or very rarely so they have no motivation to break even…..”

        Do you really think that some Uber drivers just drive around as a recreational activity, like a Sunday drive or going to a car rally? Some Uber drivers may lose money, but that just shows that some people don’t realize what a poor deal independent contracting usually is. They are the victims of their own economic ignorance, just like you are.

    • david of Kirkland says

      Corporations shouldn’t be allowed to “take care” without all forms of compensation and benefits treated as income.

    • Jim Gorman says

      You do realize that we used to have “company towns”, “company stores”, and “company doctors”. They were finally seen as “plantations” and eventually dismantled. This is exactly what is being envisioned. Only it will be “government towns”, “government stores”, and “government healthcare”.

  6. wasnt it Schultz’ idea for baristas to initiate a conversation about race with their customers? It was a huge flop as I recall.

    • Jose says

      To this point I thought he was trying to be a genuinely good person I never said he was effective in actually doing so I should have made that more clear.

      Starbucks also provides a good health insurance plan from what I’ve read and also subsidizes their employees’ educations.

      Uber by contrast can just paint itself to be socially progressive and therefore avoid the economic “responsibilities” the left has come to expect.

  7. The reason why Howard Schultz, Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pinchai are disliked by the genuine left (people like Elizabeth Warren) is that social posturing at the top of a concentration of authoritarian power is anti-progressive in nature. The true activist left of Ralph Nader and Warren and Sanders has long understood that the problem with unchecked CEOs, even woke ones, is that it allows them to become the true unelected governors of the world. Look to conservative complaints about Twitter and Facebook right now to see the market driven by corporate entities at work. The problem is the mass concentration of power. Not whether or not an oligarch happens to be a decent person. No person can have all that power unchecked by any democratic authority. It is tyrannical.

    • Tom Sawyer says

      But under the circumstance of these examples, the individual consumer does have the power. These are not Steel Mills. The “power” of these companies is checked by the people who continue or discontinue to use the product. In no way are people being strong armed to use the product, everyone knows that are information is being studied, bought and sold. Yet we continue to use the product. If the Left truely want to send a message to these CEO’s all they have to do is discontinue using their product.

  8. Since when is Elizabeth Warren a Leftist? She regularly states that she is a “capitalist” and dismissively states that she is “not a democratic socialist” – her version of the non-stop red-baiting digs at Bernie Sanders that have occurred since 2015.

    Warren was a Republican until the mid 90s, and she even admits that the only reason she became a Democrat was because she initially “thought that those [Republicans] were the people who best supported markets. I think that is not true anymore.” She supports a weak-willed “regulation of markets” that does not mitigate the deep chasms of economic inequality in the United States. –

    Ergo, she is not even remotely Leftist. She is firmly entrenched in the “left-wing of neoliberalism” (as its been identified by Dr. Adolph Reed and others) but has no interest in the redistributive agenda advocated by Senator Bernie Sanders. And let’s not even get started on her eye-roll inducing insistence about her “Native American heritage.”

    And, no, “critical theory” as its practiced by the so-called “social progressives” written about in this article (really, they are identitarian neoliberals) did not originate in a Marxist dialectical materialism. They variously originated with thinkers like Foucault, Irigaray, Crenshaw, et cetera. These people are not interested in addressing economic inequality or lived material realities. They are interested in a performative politics of “wokeness,” elite brokerage, and the managerial class. Vivek Chibber, Catherine Liu, Adolph Reed, Walter Benn Michaels and others are regularly engaged in a critique that points out how the identitarian neoliberals are not Leftist at all – they are part of a bipartisan neoliiberalism in which “liberals” perform a “woke” program when it comes to diversity and multicultural issues but have absorbed much of the GOP and Right’s agenda of upward distribution that further entrenches economic inequality.

    • E. Olson says

      Warren’s proposals for a wealth tax, a return to higher corporate taxes, and higher marginal income tax rates sure sounds Leftist and redistributionist to me. Cheating on affirmative action hiring also sounds very Leftist to me – see recent college admissions scandal involving almost entirely wealthy Democrats. I think the only thing holding back Warren from going extreme Left is how beholden she is to be corporate donors, in that way she is a Hillary clone.

      • All of those things are proposals that soften inequality but do not fundamentally change the terms of debate. I don’t hear much from Warren about things like proposals for taxpayer-funded single payer health care and higher education, living wage, removing big money from politics, free/subsidized child care, or maternity/paternity leave. And if she and folks like Senator Harris and Senator Booker mention them, they mention them tentatively and then back away. And anyone explicitly identifying themselves as a “capitalist” is not tethered to anything resembling a political Left. I’m talking about a program that overtly reverses the privatization of things like health care, education, et cetera and questions the logic of capitalist realism.

      • Grant says


        I think Warren will be whatever she needs to be. The whole DNA fiasco proves she’s not particularly bright and her 2% tax on wealth wasn’t thought through at all, and really there’s no need to. Warren will continue to fling the spaghetti, the fettuccine, linguini and every other pasta at the wall this year. It’ll be great.

    • So, Granny Warren “is not even remotely Leftist. She is firmly entrenched in the “left-wing of neoliberalism.” That’s a pretty fine distinction, a nit-picking distinction some might say.

      So what is the rule that distinguishes a leftist from the left wing of the neoliberals, assuming I don’t want immerse myself in Dr. Reed’s musings on race and society?

      • Leftists are concerned with uprooting the logic of capitalist realism whereas the left-wing of neoliberalism absorbs utopian free-market ideology, which it shares with the political Right in the United States. It adopts performative “woke” positions on multicultural and diversity issues (i.e. the “woke” consumerist collaboration of Nike and Colin Kaepernick) but is not interested in a materialist program of redistribution. It would rather see inequality “proportionally distributed” among demographic categories (disparitarian discourse) rather than addressed across the board. Ergo, Senator Warren had no trouble switching to the Democratic party in the mid-1990s because, in her own words, she felt they “better supported markets” than the Republican party. True Leftists are not interested in “protecting markets” – they are interested in challenging capitalist realism.

        This point of view is often pejoratively referred to as the “old Left” or the “white Left,” but this is the approach that Senator Sanders advocates. He is often red-baited by (neo)liberals utilizing race reductionist discourse and other tactics of identitarian neoliberalism, and his program is dismissed as somehow inherently racist and white supremacist – Joy Reid, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and other have approached Sanders this way.

        It’s a bizarre tactic coming from a group of people who purport to want to combat inequality or advocate for “social justice.” And it ignores how civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Bayard Rustin, and A. Phillip Randolph connected the black civil rights movement to broader issues like poverty, economic inequality, health care inequality, anti-war activism, et cetera.
        Another of their favorite tropes is the “Bernie Bro” or the “brocialist” – implying that Bernie Sanders’ program/campaign/supporters are inherently sexist and that “true feminists” should support Hillary Clinton and ignore her corporatist, elite approach. See: Madeline Albright and Gloria Steinem scolding women who supported Bernie Sanders –

          • No problem.

            Here’s an interview Dr. Reed did with Bill Moyers that also encapsulates the difference between “Left” and “(neo)liberal.” –

            It’s been quite informative to me to read conservative critiques of (neo)liberalism on Quillette because, as a fellow Leftist put it, you all are outside the forest and far beyond the trees so you see things that we cannot. And when I disagree, it’s good practice for me to articulate why.

        • Jay Salhi says


          “True Leftists are not interested in “protecting markets” – they are interested in challenging capitalist realism.”

          Does that mean getting rid of market economies? Or something else?

      • ga gamba says

        To provide a brief answer (which I think you want), neoliberalism is far less antagonistic to capitalism. It’s premised on the idea capitalism won, the command economy is a dreadful idea, and it’s prudent to aid people’s (re)integration into it rather than oppose it.

        • JWatts says

          “neoliberalism is far less antagonistic to capitalism. It’s premised on the idea capitalism won, the command economy is a dreadful idea, and it’s prudent to aid people’s (re)integration into it rather than oppose it.”

          All of that is pretty much the historical record. But you still plenty on the Left who are Denialists, just like you see people on the Right who Deny that the Earth has warmed over the last 40 years and going to continue to warm as long as we increase the rate of CO2 entering the atmosphere.

          • Peter from Oz says

            ”All of that is pretty much the historical record. But you still plenty on the Left who are Denialists, just like you see people on the Right who Deny that the Earth has warmed over the last 40 years and going to continue to warm as long as we increase the rate of CO2 entering the atmosphere.”
            False equivalence is is such an obvious schoolboy error. I wonder why you bother to commit it.
            Just because the left is wrong about something, doesn’t mean that the right is wrong about climate alarmism.

    • Defenstrator says

      “Upper redistribution”? Taxation is upper redistribution. People freely exchanging money for goods and services is something quite different.

  9. Ray Andrews says

    I have a dispute with the term ‘neoliberal centrist’ from the getgo. Are neoliberals centrists at all? Centrists believe that the cooperative (or corporation take your pick) that is the state should be run for the benefit of it’s members (or shareholders take your pick). But they aren’t commies, because centrists are not ideologues and, no matter how good your just-so story sounds, if it is demonstrated not to be true, centrists will not believe it. (Centrists don’t ‘believe’ anything really, they are agnostics and pragmatists. They don’t ‘believe’ that rocks roll downhill, they observe that rocks roll down hill.)

    But neoliberals, tho deeply concerned with who can use which lavatory, have presided over the gutting of the middle class, and reductions in the real standard of living of the poor. Judging by the results, they seem to really be nothing but plutocrats who have returned us to something like the age of the Robber Barons. As the old saying goes: if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck …

    • ga gamba says

      Neoliberalism is the embrace of capitalism by those of the left who had been hostile to it. This is best seen by the shift of the US Democrat and UK Labour parties under Clinton and Blair, respectively. For example, both were globalist free traders rather than siding with labour who opposed so-called free trade deals. FWIW, the US Democrats were not as left as UK Labour, so the changes are more observable in the UK. Under Blair the Labour Party ceased advocating for the (re)nationalisation of certain industries. New Labour went so far as to abandon ‘Clause IV’ of the Party’s constitution that committed it to nationalising the means of production. Both leaders were much less antagonistic toward business. UK Labour shifted from calling itself a democratic socialist party to one seeking social democracy. In the US, Clinton reformed the welfare benefits programmes to get the chronically unemployed back into the work force.

      Obviously those further on the left were displeased. They had become unwelcome strangers in their own parties.

      I think that there’s an argument to be made both Clinton and Blair were pragmatic. Political parties exist to rule, and seeing the catastrophic elections results for the the Democrats a Labour in the ’80s, there was a fear that both parties would become irrelevant if they didn’t change with society. Following Reagan/Thatcher and the collapse of socialism in much of the world where it had been implemented, I think these leaders recognised the electorate had become much less blue collar, it also had little appetite for anything that smacked of traditional left ideas on the economy. Instead these parties focussed more on social issues. The state would offer a hand up and not a hand out.

      As for the economic changes that hit the working and middle class, those pre-date neoliberalism. Major changes to the global trade system started under Kennedy in ’62, the oil shocks and stagflation of the ’70s, and the Reagan/Thatcher revolutions all predate neoliberalism. Neoliberalism was a if-you-beat-’em-join-’em approach.

      • ga gamba says

        and that should have been if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em approach.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @ga gamba

          That’s hard to dispute. I feel checked if not mated. Ok, after Thatcher/Reagan the left felt that it had to move rightward. Agree. So SJ enthusiasm then, rather than being my diversion, … well, still a diversion, but an internal diversion and propelled not so much by the left becoming the stooges of the globalists, but more out of a need to keep making ‘progress’ somewhere, and if not in the economy, then utopian instincts could be satisfied with SJ at least. That’s plausible at least, true at best.

          But my thesis holds: neoliberalism is not classical centrism it is a capitulation to the right.

          • Ray Andrews says

            … nope, I didn’t get that right. I might loose this round.

          • ga gamba says

            What then is classical centrism? When was its classical era? Was there a classical era? Is classical centrism different from new fangled centrism? And what’s up with the radical centrists?

            I call myself a conservative, yet when I’ve taken the Political Compass test each time I’m dead centre between left and right and I’m +3 libertarian on the authoritarian-libertarian vertical axis. I don’t deem this test the be all and end all, and it has some flaws, yet the modelers, those who controlled the definitions, see my answers as centrist.

            I think this defines centrism: Tolerant traditionalists who think idealism without realism is at best impotent and perhaps downright dangerous.

            An example of tolerance will be acceptance of gays, people of other faiths, etc. The traditional aspect still holds monogamy, family, community, and country important. Criminals ought to be punished for their crimes, but where possible reform is desirable. They’ll look at far left ideas and ask “How you gonna pay for it?” They look at Libertarian ideas, ask “How are you gonna organise that?” and “What’s to prevent my arsehole neighbour from throwing nightly raves that end at dawn and run a blast furnace during the day?”

            neoliberalism is not classical centrism

            But neoliberalism was a movement of the left that moved it rightward to the centre. Whether that centre was classical, new and improved, radical, or “now with flavour crystals”, it still was the centre, was it not? Neoliberals didn’t become neoconservatives.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @ga gamba

            Like all social terms a mathematically exact definition is not to be had, but classical centrism is Adam Smith + JS Mill + Tommy Douglas + … well … + anyone who believes that capitalism/free enterprise is a very good thing, but tends to concentrate all wealth in the pockets of a very few, and thus needs some moderating. And that the best society is not run as a dog eat dog arena, but rather run for the benefit of its citizens. And that no economic theory is complete and thus pragmatism should prevail.

            “Tolerant traditionalists who think idealism without realism is at best impotent and perhaps downright dangerous.”

            That sounds good to me.

            “neoliberalism is not classical centrism”

            Nuts, I don’t like it, but as I said above I can’t refute you. It is bloody obviously a movement on the part of people like Blair to move the left rightward, thus toward the center. Yet I chafe. My centrism is Bretton Woods economics, Eisenhower’s views on infrastructure, LBJs idealism but checked by reality. America in the 50’s seems to have been getting genuinely better for everyone. I have to refine my views on this, I’m not making my case.

          • ga gamba says


            The men you mention such as Mill are associated with liberalism, which has come to be known as classic liberalism to differentiate it from the American use of the word liberal.

            I haven’t heard of classical centrism being synonymous to classical liberalism, though truth be told I hadn’t seen classical centrism appear anywhere else. I thought you being in Canada may have been polluted by a new Americanism that’s yet to take flight to bewilder the rest of us. Or maybe it’s a Canadian thing.

            In fact, doing a google search for “classical centrism” I find your comment at Quillette is the top result – I took a screen shot of it so you may celebrate the triumph of this accomplishment. It’s usually the big guys who top the list.

        • @gg

          Clinton introduced neoliberalism to the US by calling it “the third way” or “triangulation.” Most commentators in the US still don’t routinely treat Clinton’s third way or triangulation as synonyms for neoliberalism; but it seems they should. However, in retrospect, GWH Bush was clearly our first neoliberal president.

        • X. Citoyen says

          I think “if-you-beat-’em-join-’em” is the unofficial slogan of the progressives’ decolonization movement.

      • neoteny says

        the oil shocks and stagflation of the ’70s

        And the collapse of the Bretton Woods system (Nixon closing the gold window).

        • ga gamba says

          That’s an interesting point. Gold after all is a very finite resource. Because of this it limited what governments could do, which is not a bad thing – yet FDR expanded the government whilst still under the gold reserve system. The value of gold would increase or decrease and governments had to align policies to that. Yet, why gold? Because it’s scare? Why not cowry shells then? Or why not something far more more useful, such as crops or oil? When we were on the gold reserve, gold itself had very little practical use other than decoration. Later, its use in consumer electronics is what? Nearly 1.5 billion cell phones are produced each year, and most of them contain about fifty cents worth of gold, so $750 million.

          I’m not a gold bug, but I’d be interested to read the comments of someone who has good arguments about it. Especially so if the person can do an analysis contrasting the past to the present.

    • Ghatanathoah says

      @Ray Andrews

      I think whether neoliberals are centrists depends on where you put the center. If you put the average person in the center it definitely isn’t. But if you put the average policy wonk in the center, I think it probably is. This is because both groups have different incentives. An average person with no political power can believe whatever stupid nonsense makes them feel good. However, a politician knows that if they damage the economy and impoverish a ton of their constituents they will be out of a job, so they have an incentive to actually believe in economic theories that are correct. Since neoliberalism is correct, that is what policymakers believe in.

      Socialists and protectionists are kind of like anti-vaxxers. Anti-vaxxer’s children are usually safe because everyone around them vaccinates, so the diseases that can harm their children never get a chance to spread in their community. Similarly, socialists and protectionists can believe in insane stupid nonsense without getting kicked out by their constituents because most politicians are at least partly neoliberal, and therefore block them before they do enough damage to make their constituents take give them the boot.

      Of course, the problem with anti-vaxxers is that if they convince enough people there will eventually be enough unvaccinated kids for a measles outbreak to occur. That’s starting to happen now, protectionism is doing some pretty nasty damage to the economy and socialism might get a turn if the Democrats win.

      You can extend the analogy even further. Most anti-vaxxers think vaccines cause autism and other health problems, while most anti-neo-liberals think free trade and capitalism causes poverty. They’re both wrong, but it’s clear that they have noticed a problem, even if they are wrong about the solution. Autism is definitely real, and a lot of people’s economic prospects do look worse than they did in the past.

      The idea that you can get correct answers just by observing stuff without a theory to explain it is bunk. Most scientific progress has come from people developing theories, noticing those theories had some weird implications, and then doing some empirical observations to see if those implications pan out. Einstein developed a theory to explain how light worked, because of some of the other implications of that theory people were able to make the observations that led to the discovery of atomic power and black holes. No one would have known to bother making those observations without the theory. Without theory physical science would still be stuck at Aristotle’s level and economics would still be stuck at mercantilism. There’s just too much stuff to observe, you need a theory to tell you what to look for.

      There’s this idea that people just cling to theories instead of observing the world, but in practice the world is full of observations that appear to contradict each other or that turn out to be wrong. Just observing facts without having some explanation for how the facts all relate to one another is not a recipe for good decision-making.

      • Ray Andrews says


        “a politician knows that if they damage the economy and impoverish a ton of their constituents they will be out of a job”

        Nevertheless the often do damage the economy and eventually end up out of a job. So the fact that they have an incentive to do something does not mean that they always succeed in doing it.

        “Since neoliberalism is correct”

        Correct by what standard of evaluation? Correct for whom? Certainly not for the working class or the taxpayer. The former have seen the economy that sustained them gutted, and the latter get less return on their investment than ever before. It seems to be working very well for the international elite, however.

        “protectionism is doing some pretty nasty damage to the economy”

        It is unquestioned doctrine among some that Free Trade is an unalloyed good, that more is always better. Always. I think that is probably not true. It should be the default of course. If two people or two nations want to trade, then I’d say we should have a very good reason before we try to stop them. Like for example a gross balance of trade deficit. Or a policy that destroys the ability of a country to make it’s own stuff thus leaving them vulnerable and stupid. I would find it non-catastrophic if my bicycle was made in North America anyway, even if it might be somewhat better in the opinion of economists if it was made in China.

        “The idea that you can get correct answers just by observing stuff without a theory to explain it is bunk.”

        That’s a book-length subject. No, one always gets correct answers by observing reality because reality is always itself. We naturally develop theories which satisfy our desire to tell just-so stories, and which may have predictive power as well. Theories are good. Everything you say about theories, I agree with. But people develop loyalties to theories that cause them to insist that reality is not what it is, but what the theory says it should be. Thus the Marxist theory demands that reality be ABC, whereas reality insists on being XYZ. Likewise, Free Market fundamentalists demand that reality be DEF, but again, reality insists on being XYZ. Reality is indifferent to our stories/theories/memes.

        “Just observing facts without having some explanation for how the facts all relate to one another is not a recipe for good decision-making.”

        It is if we have a pattern of observations that repeats itself reliably even if we can’t explain why. Thus the fact that governments who solve all their fiscal problems by just printing more money actually do not solve them but create disaster is observed to be true, whether or not I have a theory as to why that is. (Bad example, because in this case we do have a very sound theory.)

        The problem is that economists and socialists all suffer from physics envy — they want to be ‘real’ scientists with equations and replicated data. But economies can’t be reduced to equations because people are nothing like quarks. Thus every economic theory is incomplete and subject to exception and error. We do better to avoid doctrinal — theoretical — thinking and stick with observation. Mind, the academic economists can and should continue to try to come up with better theories. Maybe one day they’ll come up with one that works. Already some of their predictions are ever so slightly better than reading tea leaves. But still we had ’08. Oh well.

        • @Ghatanathoah & Ray Andrews

          It also seems to be true that theories based on our collective understanding of reality that purport to predict the future, like plans of battle, never survive their first contact with the future intact. Some collapse immediately and some survive for a while with modifications that increase over time and eventually generate a new theory; but then the cycle is repeated. No reality based theory lasts forever.

          A unified theory everything still eludes the best minds in all fields and, I assume, always will.

      • Softclocks says

        Never seen someone argue that neoliberalists have or show any concern for the constituents jobs or well being.

        Surely the democratic party has to realize, on some level, that globalist pseudo-free trade wrecks havok with a nation’s unskilled labor? Neoliberalism seems to protect and serve people of the chattering class and up.

    • Geof says

      The key thing feature of neoliberalism is the role of government, which is best understood in contrast with traditional liberalism (the pre-WWI kind).

      Though left and can centre disagree on a lot, they share the principle that government should interfere in markets: whether to prime the pump, run certain industries, provide a safty net for those left behind, or replace markets entirely with planning, etc.

      For traditional liberals, markets arise naturally. Cave men Za exchanges a rabbit for cave man Kal’s arrow head, and so on and so forth until Google makes a public offering. The role of government is therefore to keep out of the way so that it will not distort the formation and operation of markets. It should provide the rule of law (especially for contracts), security, and so forth, but keep its hands off the economy.

      Neoliberals say that markets are indeed the best way to organize the economy, but that markets often will not arise naturally, and left to themselves they tend to be unstable. The role of government, therefore, is to manage markets where they exist, and create them where they do not. Unlike liberals, they are not sceptical of government regulation: but they do so in order to promote markets. Hence privatization of public services, globalization, trade agreements with complex intellectual property rules, and so forth.

      They also believed also that markets would bring wealth to all democracy to developing countries.

      Neoliberalism really is a third way, combining planning with genuine commitment to markets. It all sounds very reasonable (it certainly seemed that way to me at the time). But notice: while under neoliberalism, the lives of ordinary people are dictated by market forces, at the top of the system are technocratic experts who decide the rules of the game.

      Then it turned out that the globalized neoliberal economy did not bring wealth to all: many ordinary people were impoverished. And there’s China. It seems that you can have markets without democracy. Following their initial bout of incredible naivete (to give the benefit of doubt), neoliberals found that China drove them nuts: it just wouldn’t follow their (American & European) rules. China uses markets to run much of the economy, but with government at the top designing the system. Hmm, kind of like… neoliberalism?

      For a left-wing view of neoliberalism,see David Harvey’s Brief History of Neoliberalism, which I believe can be found for free online.

  10. James Lee says

    Another good article Uri.

    A key aspect of Elizabeth Warren’s critique is that, as Adam Smith himself was aware, “free market Capitalism” requires regulation and anti-trust enforcement with teeth, but we currently have very little of those because of the extreme concentration of wealth and the revolving door between regulators and industry.

    Nassim Taleb pointed to a potential partial solution—requiring regulators to not be able to work in the relevant industry for a designated period of time after their service (say, 10 years)- but i’m not holding my breath that it gets implemented.

    Despite the fact that the Silicon Valley Cartel is acting in a coordinated fashion to censor and “downboost” conservative views, we still see knee jerk reactions from Conservative, Inc. that the Corporate Cartel must be left alone at all costs. Talk about sawing off the branch you sit on… but perhaps the real lesson here is that the only thing that Conservative, Inc. wants to “conserve” is their own power and wealth.

    Given the incredible greed of the current Western elites, I expect that financial Socialism will become much more prominent (as Uri suggests), until it results in widespread social breakdown, as if that’s not already occurring.

    • E. Olson says

      JL – established capitalists hate competition, and the easiest and more reliable way to prevent competition is to collude with the government so that regulations, taxes, subsidies, tariffs, and lax anti-trust/collusion enforcement to help stop or kill off new competition from gaining a foothold. This is an effective strategy because bureaucrats and legislators tend to like the bribes and status that come from helping name-brand monopolists keep their monopolies, so it’s a win-win for everyone except the consumer, entrepreneurs, and the health of the overall economy. Capitalism needs effective government to maintain competitive markets, but capitalists and bureaucrats hate effective government.

      • Ray Andrews says

        E, you astonish me today. We’re peas in a pod.

        • E. Olson says

          Ray – I often agree with you, the big difference between you and I from what I can see is that you have much more faith in the competency and effectiveness of government solutions to social and economic problems. I’m with Reagan when he famously said: The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Unfortunately, even Reagan was mostly beaten by the swamp, but I’m still hoping Trump will be tougher.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @E. Olson

            Nuts, I’m getting cornered all over the place today.

            “much more faith in the competency and effectiveness of government solutions”

            That’s not quite it. I think I see bureaucracy and government for what it is. That is, I see what it’s evil tendencies will always be. The FF so brilliantly designed a government with the understanding that governments go bad. But I don’t think that these things cannot be kept under control. If we instituted bureaucracies, not with the notion that they would forever do good things, but with the up-front understanding that, given a few years without tough oversight, they’d become as fat and slow and useless and bloated and wasteful as they always do. If we kept oversight of bureaucracies at all times, then I think we could have decent return on tax money spent. I think I said elsewhere that my Dad told me of the day when bureaucrats signed a letter ‘Your humble servant’. That’s hard to imagine today, no?

            Oh, and don’t blame the workers. I can tell you from experience that government workers are embarrassed by the people they work for. If you want I’ll regale you with some tales.

      • James Lee says

        @E Olson,

        Well said, and I completely agree.

        BTW, on the topic of neoliberalism, it can’t be understood without reference to a globalist vs nationalist outlook. As Lasch and Huntington pointed out, modern elites/neoliberals tend to see themselves as borderless and cosmopolitan actors, very unlike those deplorables in the sticks who had their livelihoods destroyed by those bipartisan and neoliberal-written trade agreements. Neoliberals tend to view national laws and democratic votes as problems to be overcome—especially when those dumb voters don’t vote the “correct” way.

        Both “conservative” and “liberal” Neoliberals support mass immigration, just as the Gilded Age robber barons did- cheaper labor costs as well as cheaper servants (nannies, gardeners, cooks, etc).

        Following Peter Turchin, I believe we have gotten to this point because the level of intra-societal cooperation has fallen to a dangerously low level. External competition drives internal cooperation, and since the fall of the Iron Curtain the West has faced virtually no external competition. Accompanied by the decay of religion, the West has also been plunged into a crisis of meaning.

        The greatest generation truly understood bloodshed and war, as well as the necessity for
        prosociality. We are generations removed that era, and we are stuck with too many naive radicals who have embraced a zero sum tribal game. It is unlikely that this turns around until we experience major societal instability, which is right on the horizon.

        Or, the West could simply descend into a long cycle
        of soft totalitarianism, with transnational corporations dictating who is permitted to speak online, have a bank account, or even have a job, all based on holding the “correct” opinions.

        • E. Olson says

          Good comment JL – reminds me of the old cycle of life saying:
          Hard times bring forth strong men.
          Strong men bring forth good times.
          Good times bring forth weak men.
          Weak men bring forth hard times.”

        • Ray Andrews says

          @James Lee

          That’s what I was caught short trying to say to ga gamba. The classical center had some idea that charity begins at home. Our nations were not to be leveled down to the lowest common global denominator. Whereas it might be unavoidable to call the neolibs ‘centrists’ their worldview has no real nations and no real cultures, just one homogenized global workforce in a never ending race to the bottom.

          • James Lee says


            Yea, as Turchin’s research indicates, after the great crash in 1929, many leading American business executives pledged to maintain wages at the expense of their own profits, whereas in prior recessions they had slashed wages to protect their margins. In 1929 they recognized how dire the situation was for everybody and responded in a prosocial manner.

            It’s almost impossible to imagine happening today.

      • K. Dershem says

        E., I think this is the first time I’ve completely agreed with one of your comments! Not that you should care, but it does give me hope that common ground is possible in our hyper-polarized times. In my view, power should be devolved to the state and local level as much as possible — at that level, it’s easier (not easy, but easier) to hold government accountable. In some instances, however, federal oversight is necessary. Regulatory capture is an insidious problem, and I’m not at all confident that the Trump administration will successfully address this issue given how many lobbyists and corporate insiders have been appointed to run agencies. The “revolving door” is still spinning, despite promises to “drain the swamp.”

        • Ray Andrews says

          @K. Dershem

          The essential thing is that both of you are open to agreement rather just just hammering away at each other. My own view is that all reasonable people can learn to live together with mutual respect.

        • E. Olson says

          K – well by golly I must be slipping. Compare the local corruption in places like the Dakotas or Minnesota versus Louisiana or Georgia and and it is difficult to be optimistic that state and local authority would be effective in all locations.

  11. James Lee says

    We are entering Gilded Age levels of Inequality and elite corruption. The evolutionary anthropologist Peter Turchin, in his excellent book Age of Discord, provides several quotes which illustrate how business elites of that age viewed competition versus collusion in a “free market” Capitalist economy.

    “Ignorant, unrestricted competition, carried to its logical conclusion, means death to some of the combatants and injury to all…”

    “Unrestricted competition has proved a deceptive mirage, and it’s victims were struggling on every hand to find some means of escape from the perils of their environment. In this trying situation, it was perfectly natural that the idea of rational co-operation in lieu of cut-throat competition should suggest itself.”

    • Ray Andrews says

      @James Lee

      It seems that absolute capitalism is also absolute corruption. Perhaps a good example of natural capitalism-competition is the life of a wolf. Most of them die by being murdered by other wolves. Or the Mafia, engaging in their ‘free market’ activities and dealing with each other ‘competitively’.

    • Peter from Oz says


      I can’t say I agree with the idea that somehow income or wealth inequality is really the problem that people make it out to be. The difference between now and the Gilded Age is that the vast majority of people in Western societies are very well off. They live longer, have more access to goods and services and enjoy a very good standard of living.
      We thus need to be careful about basing a case for political change on envy and greed

      • James Lee says


        The problem is that extreme wealth inequality is destabilizing for society. It is a symptom and a cause of decreased intrasocietal cooperation. Turchin’s work is great in this area.

        On the face of it, it’s logical. When poor kids in the inner city or rural appalachia watch the wealthy live such extravagant lifestyles that they might as well exist on Mars, and they are told by society to work a full time retail job for minimum wage for perhaps the rest of their lives, that’s not a situation likely to foster contentment.

        Human beings are pack animals extremely sensitive to status. If they feel they are on the absolute bottom of the pack with no legitimate path to rise, some humans (esp young males) will act in antisocial ways in order to gain status, even if the status is posthumous.

  12. I have to say that the one aspect of this issue that makes no sense is the idea that breaking up these monopolies is practical. In effect we have a politician who wants to separate the money making elements of these companies from the utility services elements so that others can get “fair” access to making money. I can see the logic and understand that it would provide a much better competitive engine for free market effects to improve services but unfortunately it leaves the utility services element unfunded. If we want these utilities for free then either we leave these companies to make money from their effective monopolies or the tax payer has to fund it since the “customers” won’t. Either way this looks like political suicide whatever its actual merits.

    Also, the true clincher is that they are collecting money from the whole world and hence importing wealth into the USA and whatever approach you take to the break up is also likely to significantly reduce that aspect of it. It seems to me that the likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook will be protected by the political realities of being US companies in a world market and they are only likely to be at risk of significant government interference if they were to try to stop being US companies.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @steve taylor

      Have you ever studied the breakup of Standard Oil in 1911? It wasn’t exactly a socialist era, but the government was sane enough to understand that huge monopolies were a bad idea.

      • I’m not suggesting breaking up huge monopolies isn’t a good idea. It’s just that we have a big problem with these three monopolies because the engine of the monopoly is entirely funded by the profit taking part of the monopoly meaning that if you split them you end up with some completely unfunded utilities that someone has to pay for and the voters will simply vote against paying for it either directly or through taxes. I’m not even proposing that they are being sensible, it just is what the voters will do so no sensible politician can actually deal with these monopolies without some really innovative approach (which I can’t think of)

        • Ray Andrews says

          @steve taylor

          That’s reasonable. It might take some creative solutions. As you say, that sort of horizontal split might be entirely impractical.

    • ga gamba says

      we want these utilities for free

      Therein is the problem. As individuals, we could pay Google $x per month for its search, youtube, etc. We don’t. We expect it for free. These companies have bills to pay just like the rest of us.

      My problem with big tech isn’t their profits, it’s that they’ve become editors whilst still enjoying the legal protection of being service providers who aren’t accountable for what others say on their platforms. There is a good argument for this; the volume of data posted online is magnitude greater than what a newspaper editor has to deal with. Yet, I think they’ve breached their agreement with Congress, so they may either return to a hands-off model where only those who are committing crimes have their words censored and accounts banned or they ought to relinquish the protections from civil liability granted them.

      • James Lee says


        “As individuals, we could pay Google $x per month for its search, youtube, etc. We don’t. “

        In 2019, this is no longer an option, not if you mean we could pay for a service that didn’t spy and attempt to manipulate our behavior. As Shoshana Zuboff has written in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Google and Facebook do not care about your $x per month. That’s small potatoes. They want everything personal about you– where you go, what you do, where you spend money, what you say, so they can feed that data into their machine learning algorithms to create “prediction products” which they then sell to other companies on a new form of futures market. That’s where the money is. Keep in mind that “you” aren’t the product- private details of your life are the raw materials which are then converted into valuable prediction products.

        Additionally, they are increasing experimentation with how to shape and guide your behavior away from wrongthink- one small example is changing the structure of that facebook/youtube page to make you more likely to click on that “official” news source, while “downboosting” conservative and non-orthodox content.

        The entire paradigm relies on acquiring massive amounts of your personal data- the more data, the faster the AI learns, the more accurate the predictions and the more accurate the manipulations.

        There is an elephant in the room, which is that the United States is in the midst of an AI arms race with China. Understandably, the Intel community is extremely keen on near total surveillance, prediction products and AI development.

        • James Lee says

          Since nobody engaged on that comment, I will add one point.

          Given the historically close relationship between Google (and other Silicon Valley execs) and the DoD/Intel Community, I expect zero real reform from the US government. Zero. There may be some window dressing “reform”, but Google’s data extraction and AI development are too important.

          This is a critical point.

          For people who are interested in the AI war between the US and China, check out the developments with Huawei. It comes down to which country gets access to an enormous amount of data, and remember, the way machine learning/AI works, the more data, the better.

          And just for fun, I’ll mention that DARPA ran a program very similar to Facebook. It was called LifeLog.

          It was cancelled on February 4, 2004. Can you guess the exact day Facebook was founded ;)?

  13. Tersitus says

    This is just more Warren trying to milk the populist big-money-bad strain on the left— another “big idea” carrot fake in the clown-on-a-donkey race, while the kids play socialist castles in the dirt. In the end it will still be the left media-industrial complex fixing and funding itself. The good capitalist/ bad capitalist game just yields more state capitalism.

  14. “And this brings us to the relation between social progressivism and capitalism. As progressives come to see the world through the lens of oppressive systems that must be dismantled, it stands to reason they’d be more inclined to view capitalism as one such system.”

    This statement may be true and it may be true the progressives “find Marxism appealing”. But that’s about as far as it goes. I think it is a mistake to presume progressivism consists of some more or less logical coherent set of ideas. Progressivism is more a state of mind than an attachment to any coherent system of beliefs.

    The performative contradictions of progressivism are manifest everyday and Quillette does a good job chronicling them. This is a helpful but not a sufficient endeavor in trying to understand how the consciousness of large segments of our society manifests itself. And here I purposely use the word “consciousness” instead of “thinking”.

    Historically, thinking implies some grounding in experience – planting a garden, building a building, even governing a society etc etc to be done successfully require a strong relationship between ideas and consequences. We all understand that doing disconnected from thinking is the virtual definition of stupidity, but what are we to make of thinking disconnected from doing? What are we to make of a kind of consciousness which does not seem particularly concerned with experiential reality; a kind of consciousness more concerned with simply displaying and entertaining certain ideas which in themselves seem to provide great pleasure and affirm social status.

    This disconnect of thinking from doing, thinking from experience is a defining trait of modern world and especially the postmodern. Apparently whole generations are educated to believe ideas not only make reality, ideas are reality. The most recent expression of this is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s New Green Deal. She seems unfazed by the criticism as to the impracticality of her plan. Can’t we see that the Green New Deal consists of “good ideas” and if reality consists of human ideas why not posit the most environmentally and socially just ideas? Duh . . .

    The likes of Elizabeth Warren who actually try to generate policy which subverts the power of those who perpetuate fantasy shouldn’t be too surprised when such proposals don’t resonate. The genius of Barak Obama when running for president was that he understood the necessity of avoiding concrete statements about reality. In the Land of Happy Talk, the best Happy Talkers rule.

    • Tersitus says

      CA- a thought-provoking comment. Would that it were a consciousness-raising one as well.

      • Tersitus

        Thanks. I agree the Left Media Industrial Complex runs the show or at least they are the great ringleaders – they in effect affirm and cultivate values which perpetuate the logic and power of the Corporate/State. I don’t think of myself as a conspiracy theorist but I do ask myself what kinds of ideas and values affirm the power of the Corporate/State and what kinds subvert it.

        It seems the mindless progressive idiocy which thinks of itself as so iconoclastic is not only not a threat to current power arrangements, it is the logical consequence of a reality turned into commodity. Maintaining the delusions of ideology also perpetuate the transcendent power of the Corpoarate/ State. The only thing which really begins to threaten it are self sufficient clear thinking individuals. The State and the Corporation need to convince of one thing: we need them.:

    • Actually people find that thinking disconnected from doing just as stupid. This is why academics are often derided for living in the ivory tower. They live a life of intellect and study, but say things and have ideas that come across as down right imbecilec to practical thinkers.

  15. Craig WIllms says

    When Schultz was floating his trial balloon I thought he doesn’t stand a chance with that center/left message. Not enough hate and anger towards America for the Democratic side, Not enough shibboleths and platitudes for the Republican side.

    I knew he was more at home in liberal circles, but he expressed too much everyday common sense. He seemed to me to be be the least offensive liberal out of all the potentials. That was the death knell right there…He knew he wouldn’t be welcomed by the Democrats- and the Republicans had Trump – he had no place to go.

    The ‘hatred’ form the progressive Internet mobs was immediate and brutal.

    I actually felt bad for him for a day or so.

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      The guy bought his way onto the stage. He has done absolutely nothing to merit a single moment of media attention, though he did have a book to promote at the exact same time his “candidacy” was announced. Just a coincidence, I’m sure. Schultz is just a Republican who likes gay people, as are most of the corporate democrats, though we call them “centrists” now rather than Reagan Republicans. Almost nobody fell for his sham candidacy, and why would they? It was a ridiculous lie.

  16. Savager says

    I think you need to analyze the factions and remember that so much of this is symbolic. Howard Schultz is The Personification of the modern Woke Corporation.


    Since the 50s, there’s been a tacit alliance of corporate America and the social conservatives. The deal was that corporate America would help fund politicians and causes social conservatives might care about and social conservatives would vote for politicians that would give tax breaks to the corporations. The corporations could implement whatever hiring they wanted as long as they recognized the right of the social conservatives to pursue their own interests on their own on their own time. The Social Conservatives might whine about “the War on Christmas” but everyone understood that Starbucks wasn’t going to actually go out and harass the Christian pastors and the pastors would in turn not advocate for breaking up Starbucks.

    But that all changed somewhere around 2013-2015. The corporations are still giving money, but they got more than a little involved in the gay marriage debate (remember that Prop 8 passed in California with a significant majority before Obergefell V. Hodges). Then came the North Carolina Bathroom bill, which was followed by massive boycotts by multiple major companies. Goodbye traditionalist social conservatives. Your just a bunch of pearl-clutching homophobic prudes anyway.

    Along with the casting out of the social conservatives came a rapid progressive wave against all those who were previously “the middle”:

    From then came the push for increasing political correctness at work. From then came the widespread censorship on social media. Then came the increasingly hive mind of the corporate powers to act in unison on removing people they didn’t like. Goodbye free speech libertarians. You’re just a bunch of hateful racists anyways (yes, that means you Quillette reader)

    From then came Banks refusing to do business with gun manufacturers of their own free will and Bloomberg’s push for gun control turning company after company against gun rights (see Levi’s paying employees to work on behalf of gun control organizations). Goodbye gun rights libertarians and isolated farming communities. You’re just a bunch of redneck hillbilly terrorists anyway.

    I’d wager that the right-leaning factions are very angry. The further right the angrier. And they’re angry in the way that can only come from being betrayed by a close friend. That raw, primal fury that just wants VENGEANCE at any cost. The kind of anger that’ll forgive the devil himself if he would in turn smite the traitor and drive the knife straight back in his back.

    And this is how AEI and Cato can no longer seem to connect to the base when they argue against regulating social media or breaking them up.


    Now the center left and independents have seen where things are headed and are rightfully quite worried they’re favorite issues might be next (third-trimester or born-alive abortion, transgender hormone treatments for children, transgenders in women’s sports, support for non-Muslims in the Muslim world, the pollution of the local river, small increases to minimum wage laws, all benefit capital somewhere).

    These issues haven’t exploded yet. But rest assured, even if you think all the groups in section I were not people you’d associate with, or I didn’t get your pet socio-political issue, your favorite issue is coming up soon. It never happens at once and the wave is coming.

    Howard Schultz is the boss at the wheel and he’s a capital T Threat. And now he’s looking to become leader of the free world.

    It’s wise not to trust him even if you fundamentally want to agree. An activist corporate class is a tremendous amount of power all in one place.

    Odds are, Howard Schultz is going to act in a way that he wants. We’ve seen the Davos crowd run the world for several decades now, but everyone has something they’re not happy about or something that they treasure that could be “up for negotiation” soon. It was one thing when it was just wine and free trade, but now there’s been both a taste of power by factions that haven’t had it AND the corporate powers (now symbolized by Howard Schultz) are playing politics in domains they’ve previously left aside.

    Goodbye independents. Who the hell were you anyway? Why don’t you just want to get on board with what Howard Schultz wants you to think and do?


    Put simply, the corporate powers made a point of stepping on the toes of everyone not on the socially progressive left and making a big display about it. In other words, the various kinds of the non-progressives–traditionalist conservatives most significantly–got stabbed in the back within the past couple of years.

    Following the traditional libertarian arguments, we should expect to see the rise of an alternate economy which expressly supports the stances of the various non-left factions. This seems to be coming together to some extent (see: Quillette) but it’s been slow to say the least. Furthermore, we’ve seen financial blacklisting if not outright operations sabatoge. Honestly, without marketing power such alternatives don’t really matter anyway; no one wants to be seen doing business with “the ghetto companies.” Unless an entire alternative economy can spring up overnight and gain widespread mainstream acceptance, I fully expect the non-left will continue to be furious (not just angry, FURIOUS) with the corporate leadership.


    The left has never liked corporations. For most members of the independent left, be it anarchists, marxists, peacenik yuppies or just the freethinkers, the heartlessness of corporate America. The Corporate Boss is the Black-Suited devil, the straitjacketed one in a tie who oppresses the workers and chains them to desks and works them to their demise so he can steal all the fruits of their labor. Worse yet, he contributes money to those people who then vote to prevent them from leveling the playing field. If you want to be in the in-group you have to make sure to pay tribute to the proper anti-corporate boss altars.

    Now the corporations think that if they help out the Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders that they’ll be just forgiven. That if they do the obvious thing and just confiscate the guns they should have never sold in the first place it’ll all be forgiven. That if they censor all those people who should have never been allowed to exist and spread their hate in the first place that they’ll be forgiven.

    The response:

    But that’s just the baseline you see. This is Social Justice and forgiveness doesn’t come easily. In fact, you can never go far enough. These people have been oppressed for millenia. you think you’ll have justice after just a couple years with some fake platitudes about toxic masculinity? Nice of you to speak the truth for once. We’ll never have justice until those people learn to accept the our suffering.

    Furthermore, Howard Schultz, you’re just stealing people’s money again. Sure, we’ll buy Nikes to ‘show support’ (by which we really mean shafting those people). But you’re still making billions off our backs. And that’s not right. It’s time you PAY UP. You need to PAY UP to the black people your restaurant called the cops on. You need to PAY UP for benefiting from a society built off the oppression of others. You need to PAY UP to your workers who you’ve so mercilessly exploited since the inception of Starbucks.

    And you think we’re going to let you steal the presidency so you don’t have to pay up? We’ve got a rude surprise in for YOU.


    Now, the real question is if the words are just words or if they will ever amount to substantive action.

    I also have to question if the social conservatives will actually be able to take power on their own. Ultimately, the infrastructure needs money and the various social factions lack the relative financial heft to win it all on their own (regardless of what everyone thinks about their favorite faction). Therefore, either right, libertarian and moderate social sub factions will need to either rapidly gain assets in the near future or they’ll need to find a way to make peace with Corporate powers. I think that if any faction doesn’t get something out of it, they’ll almost certainly defect and either leave entirely or join the left.

    Judging by how the Democrats spent so much of the campaign on medicare for all and college for all but only ever really advanced measures to implement various forms of gun control, I would guess that a lot of the anti-capitalist left are doomed to be disappointed if/when they get power if it’s money that they’re after.

    I suspect the activist left are looking to sign an agreement with Schultz to rig the political system. Both sides believe they’ll have the upper hand after the Conservatives and non-left factions are sufficiently pacified (one way or another).

    I don’t want to place bets on if Nicolas II (read: Schultz) gets beheaded or if the radicals get lined up against a wall and shot as “the revolution swings suddenly to the right,” but that’s the fight that Schultz and the vocal left want to have.

    I will say that I think Schultz is going to be in a rude awakening if the awokening of America continues and he naively assumes the right will just rejoin in the old alliance. I also think it would be foolish for the non-left factions to just join in a revolution in which they’ll inevitably get hung later. This is why all non-progressive factions (including Christian Traditionalists, who have been traditionally free-speech skeptical) should be very concerned with free speech for absolutely everyone and need to stand up for each other when it comes to issues of employment or other key elements of status and socio-economic power.

    • Savager, I want to agree with some of these ideas, but you’re pretty far afield…

      Also, Schultz is not actually a going concern. He’s been rightfully dismissed electorally.

      • Savager says

        Schultz isn’t going to win the nomination. Here I’m using him as a symbol for the business elite as a class. I think that’s what the main article was using him as.

        Can I ask what do you think is afield?

  17. “Neoliberal Centrists” sound like Libertarians. Unfortunately, they’re not. The Silicon Valley leaders tend to be control freaks with very limited and limiting notions about how everyone else should live.

    “Ultimately, there’s a good argument that corporations and wealthy individuals who engage in modern social progressivism with its basis in critical theory are sawing the branch they’re sitting on.”
    Such corporations are certainly not discharging their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders.

  18. Constantin says

    Fascism is a tough bargain and those who do not check out its history may be tempted to believe that it is an alliance between the state and big business. But not all animals are created equal and the ideology champions get the real power and the ability to dictate. I am less charitable and do not believe these CEO’s to be “woke” any more than I believe in Unicorns. The author seems to believe that these large corporations join in the social engineering exercise out of conviction, but when in the history of mankind did big business been animated by lofty social goals? It must be a very new phenomenon – LOL. The complaint “but we are allies” is hilarious. In reality big businesses are mere tools in the hands of those whose ultimate goal is to eviscerate them at the first available opportunity.
    I think the author makes a very solid point underscoring the fact that critical theory based modern progressivism is a monster in a never ending search of victims, and that income inequality, far from being vaccinated, is at the very top of the menu, even if it does not look so under the watch of a non-viable compromise called neo-liberalism. The quintessential neo-liberal is a frustrated Marxist, dismayed by the collapse of communist experiments world-wide, and open for “business” in a corporatist sense, because running an actual business is beyond his or her abilities. Meanwhile, he or she also needs to maintain “progressive credentials” and discovers a nearly infinite compassion and concern for statistically insignificant social fringes. It is much easier to forgive your own corruption and greed, if your brain also lets you think that you are a champion for someone who needs some help. I whish I was in a sheltered position from which I could just enjoy watching them eating each other like dogs, without being directly affected. By the time they tear apart the large corporations, and then the smaller ones, and smaller ones, we will be level with or even worse than the citizens of China, guarding our social credit score to have a hope in hell to get anywhere in life. What is bizarre about this discussion, is that the break up of monopolies with immense mind control ability, falls a outside the scope of this discussion and is so urgent, that voters could be tempted to vote in any crocodile for that purpose. My cynical guess, however, is that someone like Senator Warren would appear to be attending to something necessary while also figuring out a way to take over, rather than dissipate such untrammeled power.

  19. Sydney says

    Excellent Harris post and loads of good comments and food for thought.

  20. What’s a centrist? That gets thrown around a lot here. Whats the centrist position on how an economy should be run? On tax rates? On abortion? On illegal immigration? On guns? Inquiring minds want to know. Most centrists to me seem left on all social issues and give lip service to free markets, as long as there stacked in there favor, and fiscal responsibility by the government, again as long as it doesn’t hurt them, but would be just fine with economy killing nonsense like carbon taxes and using a lot more renewable energy and higher marginal tax rates as long as they can dodge them somehow. So I guess in that way people like Schultz are centrists.

    • K. Dershem says

      There’s not necessarily a “centrist position” on particular issues. As I see it, centrism is an approach to politics that elevates pragmatism over rigid ideological commitments. It contrasts with partisanship (“my party, right or wrong”) and values results over uncompromising purity. Centrists seek to build coalitions on the basis of shared values. In my view, carbon taxes reflect a centrist approach: market mechanisms provide flexibility and encourage innovation in a way that command-and-control regulations do not. This policy was supported by prominent Republicans as recently as a decade ago, before the party shifted into full-fledged climate denialism.

  21. Craig Willms says

    I fancy myself Center/Right, very anti-socialism, pro free market systems. However when I take these know-thyself Internet surveys re: the left vs right spectrum I always end up just over the center/left line. Confusing?? Not really.

    The survey authors have skewed notions of rightist positions. Not everyone on the right hates gay people or believe the little woman should be forced stay home and raise the kids. Nor are we all gun toting bullies cruising minority neighborhoods looking for some one to beat up.

    They also have a false sense of the width and breath of these white supremacy fools – I’m white and I don’t know even one. (But I know quite a few hate-filled hard-core leftists).

    The problem is this us-vs-them ideological obstanance. You are either this – or – that, good – or – evil. The left has successfully tagged the right with evil, nefarious and hateful values, which seems to be pure projectionism to my eye. But there is no fight in the right. The right always capitulates. It’s disheartening.

    Ouillette seems to be a kind of neutral ground and it’s appreciated. Good article…

  22. TheSnark says

    Why do so many people dump on Howard Schultz and Starbucks? He started with a single coffee shop, and built up a chain of thousands, employing tens of thousands of people. It’s not easy: have any of you done that? If you don’t know Starbucks, there are plenty of independent coffee shops to go to. If you think he exploits his workers, don’t work there. If you have a Social “Science” degree from a second-rate university, go be socially responsible and work at an independent coffee shop for the same wages and fewer benefits.

    He didn’t do with hundreds of millions from rich Daddy (like Trump), he didn’t do it based on less than 5% of his district’s vote (like AOC), he didn’t do it hiding in a backwater (like Sanders in Vermont), He succeeded pretty much from scratch, against constant and ongoing competition, and on a global stage.

    Don’t know if that will make him a good President, but dumping on him is just anger at success.

    Google and Facebook are different beasts. They may have started out as scrappy competitors, but the nature of their industries tends toward winner-take-all. They won, and there is effectively no competition. And given their network effects, there probably shouldn’t be. But even classic economic theory says you can’t allow natural monopolists to run free. They should be treated like regulated utilities.

    • Sydney says


      All good points and good comment.

      In terms of devil’s advocacy, I offer this: I decided to buy take-out coffee elsewhere (I was never a big Starbucks consumer to begin with) after Schultz’s Great Global Virtue-Signal Event of closing stores in order to perform ritual Maoist totalitarian ‘unconscious racial bias retraining’ of employees after two black men were asked/told to leave a U.S. store under unclear circumstances (they hadn’t purchased…? Refused to purchase…? Were waiting to purchase…? Were rude…? Store manager was a moron…? Store manager was racist or sexist…?).

      Nothing is more chilling than the ‘progressive left’ declaring to me what I’m thinking in my head, and how I am to properly think. We’ve got a national leader (under-educated trust-fund globalist, PM Justin Trudeau) in Canada who thinks that dictating citizens’ thoughts is a great idea, and he has been a disaster as a leader and needs to lose the October election.

      I would take nutty Trump’s rants over globo-fascist Trudeau’s totalitarianism any day. Schultz’s corporate reply to that in-store incident was chilling.

      • TheSnark says

        Yeah, Schultz’s response to that incident was pretty silly. But that happens when you have a real job with real decisions to make; you don’t always get all of them right. If we are going to castigate everyone who ever made a bad or dumb decision, all we will have are people that never made any decisions at all.

      • Polly styrene says

        Trudeau is too dumb to be ideological, and Trump has some sort of mental pathology. Trudeau just wants to be loved by participants in the identity politics oppression olympics. He’s gifted the CBC with so much funding, and the payoff seems to be that it has a huge slant to its reporting, propaganda, frankly.

        If this is politics, then politics is broken and we need a new system.

  23. Mec B says

    Good question. What is a “centrist position” is different to probably everyone who believes in that approach. I guess I can only explain it as “you know it when you see it”. Okay a little bit of a joke there…

  24. “One might even say that capitalism provides the resources for these things to be pursued, and therefore that social progressivism and laissez-faire capitalism are mutually supportive. This is essentially the Third Way argument.“

    This is not the Third Way argument. Do some research please.

  25. Victoria says

    Quillette’s “neoliberal centrist” editor-in-chief, Claire Lehmann was on Twitter last night defending an assault on an Australian politician, because the 17-year old assailant (who got punched twice in the face for his actions) was a “CHILD.” Coincidentally Lehmann didn’t like what the politician had said.

    Lehmann also theatrically declared how she “never felt more ashamed of being Australian.”

    So we’ve got a who/whom approach to morality and hyperbolic denunciation of an entire (Western) country. Sound familiar?

    Neoliberals are utopian internationalists. It’s no surprise they share certain traits with other utopian views, including Marxism.

    Despite any pretense of rationalism, their core motivation as utopians is an emotional conceit of knowing humanity’s cosmic destiny. When this dogma is challenged, it comes out in the venomous reactions, as seen in the wake of Brexit and Trump.

  26. Sneed Urn says

    Neoliberal centrists are unpopular with progressives because they are neoliberal and centrist. They are ultimately for rule by the financial elite. What you won’t hear is a Howard Schultz or any corporatist or centrist or New Democrat or a Big Tech lobbyist saying “we need to get money out of politics and reduce the voice of the financial elite in politics to the level of the average citizen”. Or, “We need to end the revolving door” or campaign finance, or … etc about the many ways of corruption. Individual specific progressive issues are not copacetic with corporate rule, even the ‘nice’ corporate rulers. Corporations and Big Money groups can’t be progressive unless they somehow say we should have no power as Big Money.

    The financial elite know their wealth is power and that they have usurped and corrupted our democracy, the only peaceful counter to their power of wealth. Progressives know this as well. That is what is so inspiring about Sanders’ 2016 campaign. He came right out and said the words “systemic corruption”. And it must end. It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to realize that was an attack on, among other financial elites, the Democratic party establishment and it’s then and current raison d’etre.

    Democratic Centrists are strongly in favor of incrementalist failure. A favorite method of thwarting actual progressive policy. So from a progressive perspective, not popular.

    Most commentators, establishment pundits of all stripes especially, are intent on avoiding the zeitgeist, and the bottom line. Progressives understand that Nothing progressive will happen in a meaningful and long term way while the financial elite are in charge. Increasingly independents and a big lower class conservative swath feel it and are coming close to articulating it clearly in their own minds. People want integrity. They don’t want corrupt politicians. Cynical politicians destroying government clearly isn’t working For Them.

    What will emerge in the democratic primaries is the question, “Do you support rule by the financial elite or do you support rule by democracy?” That is what the zeitgeist is about now. For the sake of our democracy I’m hopeful it is not thwarted again as the central issue of our time.

  27. Sarah L. says

    People keep arguing as if we have a truly free market, but we have a mixed market economy with corporatism and cronyism. I lean libertarian, and I consider all of the “sides” to completely miss the point. Leftists have become so obsessed with social issues, social justice and hating the wealthy that they cannot see how close to the alt-right they have become economically. They both feel that big government is better economically, albeit for different purposes of social engineering.

    Neolibs that grew under Clinton (Bill) are just as guilty as the neocons of pandering to the corporations, empowering them and becoming war hawks. The far left and right have really just gone off the deep end, driven by populism, manufactured outrage and feelings of being left behind, forgotten about or somehow wronged by society.

    There will always be some inequality, as we are not all equal, and that is healthy, but the extreme wealthy inequality and oligopoly that we have currently will destroy us. As mentioned above, the corporatists hedge their bets and support both sides, and they do a lot of lip service towards social issues on both the right on the left, but at the end of the day it’s just lip service. I truly believe they don’t believe what they say, it’s all PR. During the latest media circus of the week, pay attention to what is happening behind the curtains. They are so busy dividing and distracting us while they make moves to further benefit themselves.

    The truly wealthy and the oligopolies have no political class; they really don’t care about social justice or progressivism. They realized long ago that whatever gains the most business and brand loyalty, or even creates outrage and discourse will keep the money rolling in. As much as I respect him in some ways, Milton Friedman could not have been more wrong about the obsession with shareholder value. Stock prices and artificially inflated value has become more important than actual profits, employee satisfaction or long-term gains.

  28. Polly styrene says

    Many of these points of view appear to be in proximity to, or consistent with the concept of Biological Leninism.

  29. Vertice Montis says

    So this proposal is about “building a grassroots movement to fight for big, structural change” in the form of breaking up destructive monopolies like Facebook and Google. It appeared on Medium, (see ). So to comment on it, you need to sign up as a member of Medium. Which you are invited to do via your Facebook or Google accounts.

    OK, consider me punked. Where’s the hidden camera?

  30. Joseph R says

    “It seems clear that the type of progressivism that Schultz and many tech leaders subscribe to, one that seeks to combine social progressivism with relatively laissez-faire capitalism, is quickly going out of fashion.”

    Who among major businesspersons, other than perhaps Charles Koch, supports laissez-faire capitalism? Laissez-faire supporters, and I would include myself, are a tiny fringe in modern day industrial democracies. We’ve not seen anything approaching laissez-faire capitalism in over a century, possibly excepting Hong Kong. The third way espoused by the likes of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair is really a highly regulated third way corporatism that allows companies to freely innovate within boundaries loosely defined by administrative agencies, combined with social progressivism.

    So the question should be, does an economy that fails to work for increasingly large numbers of people indicate a failure inherent in the nature of capitalism, or does it reflect distortions in capitalism caused by an increasingly aggressive regulatory state? I believe it’s the latter.

    Traditional socially progressive policies have largely won the day, and properly so. But again, what do we mean by socially progressive policies? Does it mean equal rights to pursue happiness as we see fit free from interference? I would submit that any introduction of intersectional theory that confers special status on some and imposes hinderances on others fails the test.

  31. Marian Hennings says

    I don’t see Elizabeth Warren as either a neoliberal or a centrist. She is closer to being a progressive, without all the SJW baggage. Howard Schultz is a social progressive but an economic centrist. Beto O’Rourke is closer to fitting that label than Warren. The Silicon Valley giants should not be surprised that Warren has focused her sight on them in light of Amazon’s recent expansionist behavior, mergers, anti-union attitude, and solicitation of tax breaks by local communities being considered for its fulfillment centers. Schultz’ opposition to single-payer health insurance and wealth taxes would gain him the ire of any progressive.

  32. Barnpot says

    Looks like the author has never heard of ‘Cultural Marxism’ or postmodernism. He tries very hard to whitewash the underlying political movement to political correctness and radical social justice as if the reader does not know any better. Sorry – this article is pretty lame and a-historical. The culture wars is NOT just about some oppressed classes desiring respect and dignity. It is about the overthrow of capitalism – namely the overthrow of individual rights and empirical free markets.

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