According to the New York Times, after a period when it was more fashionable to study relatively marginalized religious movements like evangelicalism and Mormonism, historians are turning their attention back to liberal mainline Protestantism. One of the more surprising arguments, made by David Hollinger, is that the legacy of the mainline may be deeper and more enduring than its numerical decline suggests. He contends that, despite the apparent success of conservative evangelicalism in displacing it from the center of American Protestantism, liberal Protestantism succeeded in imparting certain broadly progressive values to American society.
Perhaps providing some support for Hollinger’s thesis, a report released this week by the Brookings Institution and the Public Policy Research Institute suggests that the religious conservatism in America is actually declining, and progressivism is on the upswing. The report summarizes the results of a survey of Americans’ views on economics and religion, and a key finding is that younger generations are more likely to identify as religiously moderate or progressive (or not religious for that matter). This trend seems to mirror the same long-term demographic changes that are contributing to the woes of the Republican Party. In short: America is becoming less old, white, and conservative and more young, non-white, and liberal.
Of course, “conservative,” “liberal,” “progressive” and the like are notoriously slippery and malleable terms (particularly when it comes to theology). And we don’t know if increased religious liberalism will translate to a revival of more progressive religious communities. At the same time, though, these trends hardly seem to support the oft-repeated claim that hard-core theological conservatism is the key to successful, growing churches.
First Things‘ R.R. Reno and The American Conservative‘s Scott Galupo both have recent posts that grapple intelligently with the problems of the G.O.P’s economic message. They’re responding in part to Mitt Romney’s post-election diagnosis that President Obama won because he offered “gifts” to voters.
What today’s Republican Party can’t seem to get its mind around is that globalization has disoriented and disadvantaged large portions of American society, just as industrialization did more than one hundred years ago. Democrats aren’t “creating dependency” by inventing social programs, they’re responding to the social reality in the way progressives have for more than a century. I’m not in favor of the progressive approach, but the fantasy that politics is simply about everybody getting the best deal for themselves is absurd. We have an instinct for solidarity, not just self interest.
And Scott Galupo:
Strong national government and federal supremacy have been with us since the Lincoln administration, but you can see its root system in the Adams administration. Michael Lind has been an essential source for the “developmental economic” history of the Unites States. If I can sum his work in one sentence, I would put it like this: The story of America, from Hamilton to Lincoln to the New Deal to World II, has been one of state-promoted — not state-run — industrial capitalism and American Dream-ism. The “neoliberal” adjustments of the 1970s and the Reagan-Clinton era did not replace this system, but rather enmeshed it in the lean-and-mean world of global finance and multinational corporations.
Obama’s mission, as he sees it (or as I think he sees it), is to try to revive the high middle-class living standards of the mid-20th-century in this neoliberal world. “Advanced manufacturing,” new infrastructure, high-tech energy, and higher education are the key components of Obama’s vision of re-industrialization. Republicans have reacted to Obamanomics as if 1) it is akin to socialism or European social democracy; and 2) they do not practice a similar brand of state-promoted capitalism themselves (military-industrial complex, anyone?).
Neither writer, both being on “the Right” broadly speaking, is enthusiastic about the economic program of the Democratic Party, but they both agree that a political party should have an economic program–one that responds to the actual needs of voters. As Matt Yglesias put it, the G.O.P. could stand to learn from Obama’s “make people’s lives better” strategy.
It has always seemed to me that there’s a basic incoherence in the message of economic conservatism. If you free up the market–cut regulation, increase foreign trade, etc.–then you are inherently exposing certain people to more economic risk. Now, this may be justifiable on the grounds that it increases the overall wealth of society. But if you simultaneously argue for slashing the welfare state and public services, then what happens to the “losers” whose economic fortunes are worsened by the market’s “creative destruction”? A cynical view of the matter–and one with some truth to it, I think–is that this is a feature, not a bug of the conservative economic worldview. That is, the whole point is to reduce the power of the middle and lower classes relative to the rich.
But assuming charitably that conservatives are interested in increasing everybody’s well-being, a more coherent approach might be a “Nordic“-style model that combines a liberalized market with a universal safety net and robust public services. This model upholds the values of economic freedom that conservatives claim to cherish, but also recognizes that government action is needed to blunt the sharper edges of the market and ensure universal access to basic goods. However, given its reliance on high levels of taxes and public spending (not to mention its–ew!–European-ness), I have a hard time seeing such a vision catching on among American conservatives.
If you care about books, you’ve probably heard that Borders is finally shutting its doors for good.
I’m so old I can remember when big national bookseller chains were villified for driving out small independent booksellers. Now these big national chains are being run out of business by Amazon and e-readers. One era’s Goliath is another’s David.
Anyway, I could never work up quite the same righteous ire against Borders and B&N that others could. Maybe that’s because where I grew up, there were no small, quirky independent booksellers. The best bookstore within a 50-mile radius was the Waldenbooks at the local mall.
So, the first time I visited a Barnes & Noble, I was pretty much in book heaven. As an undergrad studying philosophy in rural northwest Pennsylvania, I lusted after their selection of books–one that far outstripped any other bookstore I’d ever been in. Over the years, I’ve dropped a lot of dough at B&N and Borders and spent a lot of time browsing their shelves. Like most people, in recent years my book buying has shifted dramatically to online retailers like Amazon, so I can’t exactly lament what seems to be the inevitable. But there’s a part of me that’s defintely sorry to see them go.
From an excellent post at the NYT’s Economix blog:
Here is the economic logic behind increased efforts to promote bicycle use:
Cars enjoy huge direct subsidies in the form of road construction and public parking spaces, as well as indirect subsidies to the oil industry that provides their fuel. These subsidies far exceed the tax revenue generated by car use (as this excellent discussion of the technical issues at stake in these calculations makes clear.)
Yet cars impose major social costs: their use contributes to global warming, traffic congestion, accident fatalities and sedentary lifestyles.
Bicycle use is good for both people and the planet. In a country afflicted by obesity and inactivity, people who get moving become healthier. Riding a bike to work or to do errands is far cheaper than joining a gym. Cutting back on gas consumption improves air quality, reduces dependence on imported oil and saves money.
Increased bicycle use is practical and feasible, especially if it can be combined with effective public transportation for long-distance needs. As John Pucher of Rutgers University (dubbed Professor Bicycle by some of his fans) explains, about 40 percent of all automobile trips in metropolitan areas are less than two miles – a distance easily biked.
Read the rest here.
In general, I’d say the costs of our auto-centric culture, both the public subsidies that make it possible and the social costs it imposes, are largely invisible to most of us. We assume that everybody driving places individually in their car is normal, and anything that departs from that is odd or could only be brought about by some form of social engineering. Just achieving parity between driving and other forms of transportation–by, for example, making it just as easy for people to bike to work as drive–would be a huge accomplishment.