Or, to put the question more clearly: If a progressive today were to write a book like Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, what would it say?
The politics posts on this blog will be, in part, an attempt to think through some future intellectual directions for the American left. The blog occupies a relatively neglected but I think important part of the political conversation among American progressives. On the one hand, the blog is concerned with electoral politics and practical, plausible, short-term to medium-term policy changes—as opposed to the radical left of Occupy Wall Street, anarchism, and parts of humanities academia in the United States. On the other hand, the blog is interested in thinking about bold ideas that push at the outer limits of what is politically plausible in America today—as opposed to those center-left institutions that are more concerned with immediate electoral calculations than intellectual and political change. As Occupy Wall Street showed, the American left can benefit from radical voices; and there is always a need for tactical thinking by insiders about the next election. But this blog is concerned with different questions.
Before turning to the particular question at the top of this post, a little intellectual background. The next few posts offer a brief recapitulation of a probably familiar historical narrative about where we are now in American politics, and how we got here. You can hear variations on this story from historians like Sean Wilentz, essayists like GeorgePacker, lawmakers and reformers like Elizabeth Warren, economists like Paul Krugman, and many other sources of progressive thought.
In a nutshell, the story goes like this: The Reagan Era is drawing to a close, but nothing has replaced it yet.
(NB: The posts that follow are only a conversational sketch of my own half-remembered impressions, not at all an attempt at scholarly detail—a caveat that will apply to much of this blog. And, of course, any historical periodization can be criticized. The periodization offered below can fairly be criticized for simplifying American history into a series of presidencies, even when presidents were not the main causal forces in what is being discussed. But for my purposes, what follows is as good a place to start as any.)