'The Left’s Priority Is Identity Politics, Not Labor'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Reader Gary wants to see The Atlantic “expand its political coverage to include the election platform of The Green Party.” I asked him to make the case for that third party and here’s his considered reply:

From the media coverage I’ve seen, it’s quite clear that the Democrat and Republican approaches are unsatisfactory. The leadership of the two establishment parties have confused the success of American corporations with the success of the American population, despite many reports of individual Americans having little savings. As long as the share price of corporate America’s stock goes up, the economy is doing fine, ergo American citizens are doing fine, despite the fact that few of them own stock. Plus, the U.S. Equity market can be bought into by the affluent worldwide. Global investors are the real beneficiaries of American economic policy, not the mainstream of the American population.

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have both noticed the problems of ordinary Americans, but in my view they each represent a political dead end. Sanders wants to spend money he can’t raise and Trump wants a time machine to get back to the way things used to be.

Political dialogue between the two parties is poisoned.

Recently 60 Minutes aired a story revealing that congressmen spend up to four hours a day on the phone fundraising for their party’s Super PAC. The Republican interviewed said his fundraising goal was $18k a day. (The Democrats provided no figure.) Apparently all of this money goes to political advertising convincing voters the other party is some kind of demonic entity. They’re both right. Imagine that money actually being spent on something useful. When Hillary Clinton insists on staying the course and proceeding as usual, continuing this waste is what she’s talking about.

I thought labor was the political left’s major concern, but that’s not the case if we’re talking about today’s media coverage. The left’s priority is identity politics, whereas property rights is the priority of their opponents. Nobody gives a fuck about labor.

That’s too bad, because recent technological innovations have not been labor saving devices; they’re ways to monitor, control and manage human activities. Scientific management aims to increase productivity and profitability. That means fewer laborers, and those who remain are micromanaged to produce more for less for longer. The future that current technology promises is not freedom.

If you’re reading The Atlantic, I’m sure you’ve seen the story about The National Academy of Science releasing statistics reporting the death rates for middle-aged whites has risen sharply over the past 15 years. [CB: Coverage from Olga here and here.] This applies only to those who went no further than high school; their college educated peers are doing fine. The causes of death in many cases were reported to be things people take to self medicate for pain. This is no mystery. The uneducated are more likely to settle in manual labor jobs; there’s a drive in every workplace for increased productivity, continuous production, and shorter lead times; adopting new technologies in the workplace is an added cost.

What does this mean? New and increasing production targets, erratic shift work, lower wages, and fewer benefits. Workers can’t afford to miss work if injured. Their salary can’t support even a modest lifestyle while more is being constantly demanded from them. It’s easy to fall into debt and almost impossible to extricate yourself from it, meanwhile the cost of property and real estate is skyrocketing. All life’s necessities are getting more expensive. Is it really any surprise those who are being worked to death are dropping dead and those who benefit from their exploitation are doing great?

Luckily, Donald Trump has a plan to benefit the American worker: cancel labor and environmental regulations. Yes, because America would be a lot better off with the kind of environmental catastrophes China lives with.

Trump is right about one thing that the electorate has grasped: illegal immigration is a labor issue. If you’re against immigration for undermining labor conditions, pundits insist you’re a racist. I fully support everyone’s right not to live in a shit hole, but it is possible to improve the quality of life in foreign countries to a standard they find in America and to do so without invading them. Making the adoption of Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations and an Environmental Protection Act international law with strict enforcement a requirement for free trade agreements might do quite a lot to raise quality of life globally. It would also go some distance to make Free Trade Fair Trade.

Real change won’t come from an old system. I ask readers of The Atlantic to consider a genuine vision for the future. Consider The Green Party in 2016.

If you agree and want to elaborate on the case for Jill Stein—the Green Party candidate for president, featured in the above clip—email hello@theatlantic.com. Also drop us a line if you’d like to push back on the Green platform or reader Gary in particular.

And speaking of third parties this election cycle, Nora has a new piece this morning on the Libertarian Party’s prospects.