Thursday, June 30, 2016

Filopovic's "US worker exceptionalism", and the hard-working volk


That screencap comes from this amazing thread, where Clinton surrogate Jill Filopovic attempts to interrogate the standard left critique of globalization. The problem, as noted in the past, is that Jill is not even particularly well informed about the school of neoliberal thought she is attempting to defend. As a consequence, instead of working from some kind of coherent intellectual perspective, she can only respond with reflexive skepticism of leftist thought, and string together bits and pieces of neoliberal rhetoric in the hope that they'll correspond to something resembling a critique.

What results is grotesque gibberish like "US worker exceptionalism". Obviously, what Jill has in mind is American exceptionalism, a vague set of ideas about how our nation is unique in its history, its role in international affairs, etcetera. This is already an essentially right-wing nationalist doctrine, but it often avoids liberal scrutiny insofar as it avoids making meritocratic claims about individual people. Because Jill is not actually all that familiar with neoliberalism and its doctrine of American exceptionalism, she is unaware of this landmine and steps right on it, making an explicit claim about the exceptionalism of American workers that sounds eerily like objections to socialism based on the special work ethic of the volk:
This platform was combined with a rhetoric promoting the "hard-working and sober" German...A "German work ethic" was not an ideal regarded idly by the Third Reich: it served as a pretext for various measures. Not only the unemployed, but also the "lazy" - which often meant "rabble-rousing" - workers numbering in the thousands found themselves entering concentration camps... (Redekop 107)
Again: linking industriousness and productivity to some special national character was central to the Nazi rhetoric of linking lazyness, parasitism and so on to particular undesirables who needed to be eliminated. Neoliberals are usually clever enough to avoid doing this by avoiding claims about workers or work ethic, even if their general claims about the US as a nation are quietly implying the same thing. Jill, because she does not understand any of this, deploys one of the most sinister and notorious lines of right-wing ultranationalist rhetoric in history.

This is not her only point of confusion. For instance, Jill also voices her concern about how raising global wage standards could end up "radically skewing local economies in devastating ways". This is a problem one hears about in minimum wage debates in the US, where raised salaries would come from either 1) taxes on the rich, 2) profits or 3) higher prices, three impacts that could have deleterious local effects. When we're talking about raising wages for people in poorer nations, however, this is generally understood to come not at their expense, but at the expense of wealthier nations - the redistribution takes place across national borders, not within them.

If anyone has to worry about the deleterious impacts of redistribution to the poor, it is primarily overpaid privileged Americans. That, of course, is why Jill is actually worried about plans to help the poor.