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Brothers Judd interview of Steven Malanga, author of The New New Left : How American Politics Works Today
Howdy Mr. Malanga:
Congratulations on a fine book and thank you for agreeing to answer some questions.
Q: The title of your book refers to the New New Left--who comprises this group and what's "New" about them?
The New New Left, which I also sometimes call the public sector economy, consists of those taxeaters who live off government, either through transfer payments, public sector employment, or employment in sectors like private social services or health care which are increasing funded by government. These groups began acquiring political power 40 years ago, largely with the help of the vast expansion of government that began during the War on Poverty.
I call the movement "new" because about 10 years ago members of these various groups began recognizing that they had the same interest in an ever-expanding government and started working together in coalitions that support bigger government and government solutions to our problems. In many states and cities the coalition has now gathered so much power that it is in control of the political agenda.
Q: To what extent do you see the creation of this system you depict here as intentional and premeditated?
I don't think it was intentional in the beginning. The original framers of the War on Poverty were well-intentioned if naive and ultimately wrongheaded. Sargent Shriver declared back then that we could end poverty in a decade and President Johnson declared that massive urban aid would help create "cities of spacious beauty and living promise." But somewhere along the way the War on Poverty got hijacked by a new brand of social service professional just starting to come out of our college and university social service departments at a time in the late 1960s and early 1970s when they were becoming radicalized. These folks were intellectually at war with our free market system and wanted to use the War on Poverty as a means of ramping up government spending which would force taxes higher, thereby helping redistribute income in our country, they believed. They did things like help turn welfare from a program of temporary assistance into a permanent "civil right" for many recipients. They introduced the notion that the poor in our cities were not only suffering economically but that our system had robbed them of their sense of community and inner worth, which could only be revived with the help of government social service programs. Not only did these kinds of changes in attitude, especially about welfare, wreck havoc on the lives of millions and create a new kind of urban, inter-generational dependency, but they created a whole economy of people whose profession revolved around government funding to fix social problems.
Q: In your book you write about some of the aims and enemies of this New New Left and at first glance it's not clear why they chose these in particular--either as goals or as foes--could you talk a little about each and why it matters so much to them?
The "Living Wage"?:
Fostering a "Creative Class"?:
Q: What can be done about the New New Left? What are some reforms that could limit their growing power or even reverse the trends you talk about?
I think we are starting to see a new taxpayer revolt emerging in the U.S. based on the huge fiscal stress that the public sector economy has imposed in many places. We're seeing a new round of interest in taxpayer bills of rights which limit the growth of government and force governments to refund surplus taxes. We're also seeing interest in legislation or initiatives which try to restrain the power of public unions, such as the popular (for now) paycheck protection referendum on the California ballot which forces unions to get the approval of their members before using dues for political purposes. Finally, we see growing interest in getting legislative redistricting out of the hands of legislatures themselves and into the hands of nonpartisan commissions, as is done in Iowa. We need to end the widespread gerrymandering of our legislative districts because one thing that gerrymandering does is reduce the number of districts in play politically, allowing narrow interests groups to concentrate their efforts on just a few swing districts.
But it won't be easy. Taxpayers have more of a chance in states where voters can vote directly on these things, but even there, taxpayers don't want to be in a constant state of reform. They don't want to have to rise up and perpetually battle the public sector interests. The next few years will be interesting.
On to some personal questions:
I was for a long time a business editor and reporter here in New York, and it was while reporting on what government did to business that I became interested in the conjunction of public policy, politics, and economics. I covered New York during the worst of times and the best of times, and when I came to City Journal and started expressing my opinions about how politics was changing in the city, readers from around the country starting telling me, "hey, that stuff is going on here, too," so I broadened my reporting horizons.
Q: Brian Lamb of Booknotes (C-SPAN) always asks a question that I find interesting. How do you go about the physical task of writing?
Having been a reporter and editor subject to deadline pressures for more than 20 years, I like sticking to a schedule, reporting first and then writing, and I couldn't do this anymore without a computer, Excel spreadsheets and the Internet (well, maybe I could, but not nearly as efficiently).
Q: Are you working on another book now or do you have ideas for one?
When you work for a regularly published journal like CJ, you have to feed the editorial beast, so to speak. So I've got enough going on now working on new stories and promoting The New New Left. For the immediate future I'll be following the emerging battle between taxpayers and tax-eaters in City Journal. Maybe it will lead to a new book on the next taxpayer revolt, if indeed there is one.
Thank you very much for your time and your consideration. Best of luck with the book.
This interview was originally published at Tech Central Station