Selected readings from the left and from the right

Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
Published January 11

We live in a partisan age, and our news habits can reinforce our own perspectives. Consider this an effort to broaden our collective outlook with essays beyond the range of our typical selections.


From “The Populist Specter,” by Steven Hahn in the Nation.

The context, from the author: Is the groundswell of popular discontent in Europe and the Americas what’s really threatening democracy?

The excerpt: It is also a mistake to overlook how the movement of laborers and their families from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean to the United States has been produced, in part, by the U.S.’s domineering presence in the Western Hemisphere during the 20th century and, in part, by its continental conquests during the 19th. The term “globalization” quite simply obscures the power relations across continents and on the ground that have been producing massive inequalities of income and wealth, while the nationalist responses obscure the global vision and politics that will be necessary to create a more secure and equitable world, especially in the face of climate change. There is a need, that is, for a version of what Henry Wallace prescribed during the Second World War: not just an American New Deal but a global one.

From “Sweden Has a 70% Tax Rate and It’s Just Fine,” by Matt Bruenig in Jacobin Magazine.

The context, from the author: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s suggested 70 percent marginal tax rate has conservatives and centrists freaking out. But Sweden shows that soaking the rich is the smart thing to do.

The excerpt: One thing missing from the discussion so far is the point that a 70 percent top tax rate exists, not merely in mid-century U.S. tax codes or in academic papers, but also in the real world right now. Sweden has a 70 percent marginal tax rate and it kicks in, not at $10 million like AOC proposes, but at around $98,000. AOC’s proposal is quite modest by comparison. ... Sweden is not perfect but it’s a successful high-income country where ordinary people have a higher standard of living than their U.S. peers.

From “Elwood, Illinois (Pop. 2,200), Has Become a Vital Hub of America’s Consumer Economy. And It’s Hell,” by Alexander Sammon in the New Republic.

The context, from the author: The rural town south of Chicago is now a crucial stop for Amazon, Wal-Mart, IKEA, Home Depot and other giant retailers. Developers had promised growth and good jobs. So why is everyone so miserable?

The excerpt: This corporate Valhalla turned out to be hell for the community, which suffered a concentrated dose of the indignities and disappointments of late capitalism in the 21st century. Instead of abundant full-time work, a regime of partial, precarious employment set in. Temp agencies flourished, but no restaurants, hotels, or grocery stores ever came, save for the recent addition of a dollar store. Tens of thousands of semis rumbled through Will County every day, wreaking havoc on the infrastructure. And as the town of Elwood scrambled to pave its potholes, its inability to collect taxes from the facilities plunged it into more than $30 million in debt.


From “Can Democrats Explain Why The Border Wall Is ‘Immoral?’ ” by David Harsanyi in the Federalist.

The context, from the author: The blanket opposition to any “wall” has a number of logical and political inconsistencies.

The excerpt: We might not need a wall, but if a wall is inherently “immoral,” why isn’t a border or sovereignty also immoral? I’ve not heard a good explanation.

From “Why Conservatives Should Oppose the Death Penalty,” by Arthur Rizer and Marc Hyden in the American Conservative.

The context, from the authors: The state is not God, and capital punishment is not infallible.

The excerpt: A core belief among conservatives is that the government is too often inefficient and prone to mistakes. Why should the death penalty’s administration by government bureaucrats be any different? We know individuals are wrongfully convicted — and to be sure, some wrongful convictions are unavoidable. However, when dealing with capital punishment, that inevitability could have irreversible consequences and can never be tolerated in a free and law-abiding society. This is why government should not be in the business of killing its citizens. This view hews to a core conservative tenet, that the government should be inferior to the people from which it derives its power.

From “Farewell, Masculinity: We’ll Miss You When You’re Gone,” by Heather Wilhelm in the National Review.

The context, from the author: According to the American Psychological Association’s new “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men,” “traditional masculinity,” the “harmful” ideology of masculinity — marked by “stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression” together with “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence” — has got to go.

The excerpt: But what about bravery? What about risk? What about, well, testosterone? What about the wild idea that there might be a natural, non-socially-constructed difference between women and men? The APA’s summary report admits that some emblems of “traditional masculinity” might be worth keeping: “courage,” for instance, and “leadership.” Moreover, an APA-affiliated team is now working on a “positive-masculinities scale to capture people’s adherence to the pro-social traits expected from men.” Oh boy. I can’t wait. Just kidding! I can definitely wait.