Advice VII

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Wow, I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to host a blog that gets comments as good as the ones that came in yesterday. Yes, I can. It’s thrilling. Thank you.

Somewhere in the big book of rules, I think it says that a man may not blog on his wedding day. And this is my wedding day. Plus, I have a hangover the size of Baffin Island. (Note to self: you cannot replace all your bodily fluids with red wine. Stop trying.) So I will keep this brief.

SomeCallMeTim, yesterday in a comment, accused me of conflating the Left and the Democratic party, and he is of course right. Many dems regard the corportion is a tolerable thing or a necessary evil. But I am not sure you can run the country if that’s all you think it is.

As Gabriel points out, the state now defers to the corporation because the latter can do things a) that must be done, and b) that the state is demonstrably bad at doing. Indeed, we might see the diminished regard with which “waitresses in Wyoming” regards the state as a cold eyed recognition that the state grows worse at doing anything as the corporation gets steadily better at doing everything. The faster and more dynamic the world becomes, the more this is so.

I have sometimes wondered to myself whether the tax revolts and reticence that have done so much to advance the Republican cause are not so much a refusal to “share,” as they are unwilling to fund incompetence (or programs that have a way of funding the problem they are supposed to fix). Or, to put this another way: if governments were more efficient, I think every tax payer would be prepared to be more generous.

To return to my point (and I believe I have one): Achbar’s zany view is the strong form of a Democratic disability. It is, to this extent, symptomatic of a larger inability to reckon with what others take to be straightforward. The much vaunted state is not very good at what it does, and as long as this is so, those who would be its champion put themselves in a awkward spot. They must fight their way up-stream against a current that grows ever stronger. We used to be talking the Hudson River. Now it’s the Mississippi.

The Democrats are inclined to see the corporation as cruel, opportunistic, and when it can get away with it, exploitative and abusive. In this view, only the state can make the world a kinder, gentler place. But as the economists are good at showing us, it is out of the dispassionate and interested play of the marketplace that good comes, first individual, second, corporate and third collective. To vilify the corporation or merely to regard it as a necessary evil, so misses what others take to be unexceptionable as to put the Dems badly out of touch. (Or, this could be the hangover talking.)

Could I end on a related point that emerged last night when I was trying to replace my bodily fluids. We were talking about the recent election and at some point, a truth descended. If you could have only one phrase with which to identify the characteristic difference and difficulties of the Democrats and Republicans, it would be this: the Democrats are the party of principle and the Republicans are the party of pragmatism.

No doubt, this is well known, perhaps well worn, but with all that wine it carried the force of a revelation. It did so because it showed how difficult is the Democratic position at its heart. The party of principle must be “big tent,” attracting and accomodating many causes. This means you will be “steered” in part by people driven by righteousness and this is never the road to the center. Still worse, every time the Party fulfills its purpose, and stands for principle, it must necessarily take a counter-hit of sometimes equal proportion. Now that both sides are mobilized, there is no “silent majority,” no red state quiescence in the face of coastal presumption. Your principle will bring out your people and your opponents, sometimes in equal measure.

Republicans (setting aside the religious Right, who are, of course, all about principles of their own), have a vastly easier row to how. They merely insist on what is necessary. They act, that is to say, in the spirit of the corporation, out of the spirit of pragmatism that does not displease quite as necessarily as does principle. The world may grumble, but it will sometimes go along.

The upshot here, again from a strategic point of view, is that the Democrats must find someway to make the necessary world the agent of the desirable world. They must find a way to make the real an engine of the ideal. I believe this cannot happen when they continue to hold the corporation, that preeminent agent of the necessary and the real, in disdain. (John Deighton, Cheryl Swanson, Debbie Millman and Wodek Szemberg were party to this conversation. I don’t mean to suggest that they all subscribe to this view. And I don’t know to whom the credit goes.)

Ok, now to get ready for the wedding. That’s the McGill University chapel above. In a couple of hours, it will be filled with 100 people and a whole lot of joy. (Thank you, Pamela.) Now to figure out how to do a bow tie. Why the heck didn’t I buy a clip on? Apparently, principle still sometimes wins out over pragmatism.

25 thoughts on “Advice VII

  1. Grant

    Steve, thanks a million, I am a very lucky fella! Wrestling with the bow tie now. Apparently, it’s a lot like tying your shoe laces. The important thing apparently is not to watch yourself in the mirror. This can make your brain explode. Take the left side, draw it over the right side, then under and over, now… Any chance you could just pop up to Montreal and help?)

  2. SomeCallMeTim

    “And this is my wedding day.”

    Is this true? Wow! Congratulations. As for not blogging on your wedding day, I refer you to the comments of Marcus Stanley, an economist guest blogging at Brian Leiter’s place, who noted the following yesterday: “Overall, blogging doesn’t seem to impress the opposite sex nearly as much as it should.” (

    Congratulations, again.

  3. Grant

    SomeCallMeTim and Noah, thank you very much. Thank heavens, but Pam was prepared to overlook my blogging enthusiasm. And of course my best ideas come from her. Grant

  4. Mumblin' Predrag


    First off, congrats on your big day.

    Second, did you call the Democratic Party a party of principle? Really? The same party that supports the drug war and brought us the V and Clipper chips? The party that would not support gay marriage?

    The only principle that the DP has is getting elected. Same with the GOP. The only parties of principle are the third parties. Like Henry Clay, they would rather be right than be President. And like Henry Clay, they will never, ever be President.

  5. Gabriel Rossman

    First off, congratulations.

    Second, I’d like to point out that Polanyi, who of course in some ways is your intellectual ancestor, would disagree with your characterization of the two parties. In the Great Transformation, Polanyi argued that the big state is not the product of conscious construction, but the result of decades of accumulated ad hoc solutions to immediate political problems caused by the market’s creative destruction. (For a good example, think of agricultural policy). In contrast, tearing down the state is never an ad hoc solution to a specific political problem but can only be the result of deliberate application of libretarian ideology. Hence to Polanyi, the welfare state is pragmatism and the free market is idealistic. (Though of course he preferred pragmatism).

  6. amoeda

    Congratulations, Grant! As a newlywed myself, I applaud your management of blog and wedding at once and wish you and Pam a wonderful and endlessly stimulating life together.

    Your “Dems are principled, Reps are pragmatic” analysis is exactly the opposite of what I came up with. I see the Republicans as wanting to make us feel good about ourselves (individuals know best how to spend their own money because we’re smart, there’s no longer a need for affirmative action because we’re race-blind, we can bring democracy to the Middle East because we’re heroic, etc.) while Democrats advocate policies based on previously observed and documented outcomes (raise the minimum wage and the poor will live better, reduce the national debt and we’ll be fiscally healthier, impose anti-pollution regulations and the air will be clearer, etc.). Doesn’t that make Democrats the pragmatists?

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  8. Jason Ligon

    This blog sits at the intersection of anthropology and economics. Wedded Bliss is across the street, next to the Starbucks.


  9. Grant

    Thanks to everyone for their best wishes. Much appreciated. And thanks for not soaping the blog. Grant

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