Kids, Capitalism, and the end of the Public Interest

In a classically neo-conservative review for the Public Interest, Kay Hymowitz argues that advertising is corrupting children:

The truth is that hundreds of times each day, between television, the Internet, billboards, school vending machines, and curriculums, kids are prodded to do things that responsible parents don’t particularly want them to do—whether eating purple spaghetti or dressing like a streetwalker. This is at the very least a morally ambiguous state of affairs and, potentially, one of capitalism’s most serious cultural contradictions. A free society benefits from open markets; it also needs adults to see to it that children grow up to be virtuous citizens. Could it be that the former undermines the latter?

Neo-conservatives of the 60s and 70s were famous for their ‘two-cheers’ attitude to markets. As the 70s got underway, Daniel Bell argued that the corporate class had abdicated responsibility for maintaining moral values and that the vacuum was filled by liberals who had no clue about what held society together. Today the label neo-conservative is more likely to be associated with the feral foreign policy of the Bush administration. Most commentators have forgotten (if they ever knew) what the neo-conservative movement was all about.

Perhaps the old neo-conservatism has been absorbed back into the political center by the Third Way movement of the 90s. Or maybe the recent economic boom has made conservatives less worried about the growth of the welfare state. But whatever has happened, the Public Interest is a less influential journal than it once was.

Now, in a recent column for the New York Times, David Brooks announces that the Public Interest is folding. It’s core insight, he says, was that "Human beings, or governments, are not black boxes engaged in a competition of interests. What matters most is the character of the individual, the character of the community and the character of government." Who on the right will say that now?

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kevin donnelly
kevin donnelly
2022 years ago

Hi,

The following comment is totally unrelated to this topic.

Just to say,after thoroughly enjoying some of the dialogue over the last week, I will no longer get involved in the debate. It appears that having a RWDB involved upsets a few and, notwithstanding the rhetoric about civility and tolerance, there appears little room for disagreement.

The reason for ‘spitting the dummy’, as some would say, is Mark’s refusal to post a hyperlink I recommended that seeks to balance the avalanche of pro GLBT people argument that he, and others, have posted.

I also have the feeling that posts like this, for all that they are worth, are preaching to the converted and a very narrow elite part of the population. Writing for the daily press, as I do, has a much better chance of being read and impacting on the public debate.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

don’t get too nostalgic, Don.
of course these same types will lament the fact that, as Mark B noted in one of the culture wars threads, capitalism also undermines intolerance and traditional prejudices by normalising such things as homosexuality and more fluid gender roles. interesting how everything seems to segue into the culture wars recently.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

“It’s core insight, he says, was that “Human beings, or governments, are not black boxes engaged in a competition of interests. What matters most is the character of the individual, the character of the community and the character of government.” Who on the right will say that now? ”

And who on the Right has ever said that human beings or governments are black boxes? This is again a basic category mistake, conflating assumptions that neoclassical economists sometimes need to make (and in case anyone cares to query the utility of such assumptions, note the resurgence of game theoretic approaches which ultimately involve a ‘black box’ somewhere along the line to *explain* rather than *describe* more complex epiphenomenon in other social and even biological sciences) with what the more individualistic and non-conservative classical liberals believe.

Rafe
2022 years ago

I don’t think of myself as a person of the right in any simplistic sense. However I am not aware of any classical liberal who has been blind to the importance of the character of the individual, of the community and the government.

Interestingly, the founders of “The Public Interest” all supported the Great Society welfare programs of the 60s, having learned nothing from the failure of the New Deal a generation before.

As to the problem of maintaining standards of behaviour, including healthy eating, and realistic expectations among young people there is a problem abut the images presented by advertising. There is also the adverse influence of a great deal of pop and high culture. Still, these things are being addressed to some extent and will receive more attention from economic rationalists like myself now that we have the blogosphere as a vehicle and do not need to depend on hostile or unsympathetic editors to publish out stuff.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

also, don, do clarify
have you embarked on a road to damascus and are now advocating policies which ’empower’ parents to protect their children’s values against the onslaughts of capitalism? where do you draw the line on these matters? on the same place as the old neo-conservatives who would probably tend to draw them broadly. one could argue for instance that greater censorship empowers parents in this way, as would, presumably laws which at least drive underground any evidence of ‘deviant’ sexuality, or laws which broadly speaking combat trends towards ‘commodification’.

kevin donnelly
with all due respect, boo hoo.
you can post your link in comments. and you had a guest spot on Troppo anyway. never in my years of blogging have i ever felt obliged to post anything a reader recommended though most of the time i did because i thought it was a good suggestion but there is no unwritten rule that says a blogger is obliged to change his blog post to suit the reader.
heat, kitchen and all that.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I’ll reply briefly to Kevin, with your indulgence, Don.

First, I’m disappointed that he sees fit to comment on an unrelated thread about a private email that he sent me.

He is also being manifestly unfair and untruthful in that I sent him a second email which said I’d consider posting the link he sent me and would decide overnight. Therefore, he is lying in the comment he makes above.

Secondly, he ignores the fact that both Ken and I thought that the discussion about sexuality and schools had descended into quite an unproductive space which was not characterised by civility but rather by pointless arguments and increasing personalisation of the debate.

I further note that Sophie’s thread on the topic is still open and indeed James Farrell posted a comment tonight – so Kevin would be quite free to post his hyperlink there in a comment should he feel that it’s of relevance.

I reject the conflation of editorial decision and lack of “balance”. As any fair minded reader of Troppo would realise, these matters were argued vigorously and at length, with people arguing on both sides of the issue, and Ken trying to maintain a centrist position with some support from commenters.

Kevin, as has been his wont here, is misrepresenting the facts and I’ll repeat my charge that he fails consistently to engage with the arguments of his opponents, treats his own arguments as self-evidently true and any opposition as politically motivated, and employs classic sophistry to large degree. In other words, I feel that he fails to engage in a civil manner with others.

Kevin has a political agenda to push which he’s quite entitled to do, but the canons of debate in the blogosphere are quite different from those of op/ed pages in the papers. His claim that he reaches a larger readership is no doubt true, but that’s not unrelated to the fact that mainstream media provide very little space for interesting and well argued positions of a politically heterodox nature. That’s the beauty of a blog, and I think if Kevin is genuine about his desire to engage with readers, he’s welcome to open his own blog where he can subject his positions to rational dispute and rigorous criticism. I don’t believe that’s his intention. Rather, I think that he enjoys the security of the op/ed pages where he can hand down his wisdom from on high brooking no debate.

I will email him a copy of this comment.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

To be charitable to Kevin, I think I will assume that he is unused to the canons of debate in the blogosphere. I addressed the purported issue of “lack of balance” in my response to his email, which he conveniently chooses to ignore. However, I’ll assume he’s acting in good faith, with the reservations indicated in my comment above.

I totally agree with your observations, Jason.

I also hope this thread doesn’t get bogged down by this discussion. Under the circumstances, though I felt it necessary to respond.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

Surely it is the Left that sees society as a collection of black boxes, not the Right.

After all, it is the Left that considers class, gender, and social factors to be paramount in deciding the actions of the individual (and indeed, in forming the individual). It’s the Right that considers character as something that can transcend mere social and economic factors.

liam hogan
2022 years ago

Here and I thought this thread was about neoconservatism, EP, something I thought you might have liked to talk about. No, instead, it’s have a bash at the Left. No worries, that’s what we’re here for.

On neoconservatism: since when did the neoconservatives believe that moral values should take precedence over the profit motive? When the cigarette companies found out about lung cancer? When Bhopal exploded? When people first started suggesting free trade didn’t apply to landmines?

cs
cs
2022 years ago

The neo-cons are the nutzos in the engine room. You’re talking about the underlying class alignments liam. Contradictions abound. But that’s a long story. In short, the only thing bad about the neo-cons is that they exist. It’s like the world is being rhetorically run by the seventh day adventist branch of the local trotskyist party, with apologies to seventh day adventists. So long as the underlying interests are advanced, or at least not disturbed, the all singing all dancing all brutalising all unilaterising neo-con whacko moralist cabaret performance art can roll on. Give me a fair dinkum liberal anyday.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I’m sorry Kevin’s going to check out. Interesting, lively, dissenting opinion (even if one disagree with some, or indeed all of it) should always be welcomed by free thinkers.

And, Mark, do you think you can really stake out a position as politically heterodox? Have you ever taken a public position at odds with the contemporary progressive consensus? I’d be inclined to hand that accolade to Kevin – or Sophie, or Ken.

(Sorry, Don, to go OT, but I wasn’t quite sure what the point of the post was and Mark’s comments seemed to invite at least a short response.)

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Mark is anti-Chomsky and pro-Opera, Rob. In both cases fairly thumbing his nose at the contemporary progressive consensus. Rejoice!

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Rob, I was offended that Kevin saw fit to claim that I’d refused to post his link when I’d responded to his email saying I was still considering it…

As to politically heterodox, well to be on the left today is generally heterodox :)

But let’s see – proposing Princess Mary for Queen of Australia, praising Archbishop Mannix, suggesting that teaching history in schools should concentrate first on factual knowledge, agreeing with the Neo-Cons that politics is more than just economics and administration, supporting a single welfare payment, being a Federalist, supporting checks on government power, supporting a more variegated University system along the American model, adopting libertarian positions on social freedoms… that’s just a sample. Heterodox enough for a “typical leftie”?

http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/cat_mark_bahnisch.html

Rafe
2022 years ago

By neo-cons do we mean people operating under the influence of Strauss and Plato, complete with noble lies and contempt for individual liberty, or do we just mean reasonable, non-totalitarian people who have become wary about the radical enthusiasms of their youth? “Mugged by teenage daughters”:)

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Rafe, here’s a quote from Umberto Eco’s “Name of the Rose” which sums up neo-cons – or maybe postmodernists:

“…since these are arcana from which both good and evil derive, the learned man has the right and the duty to use an obscure language, comprehensible only to his fellows. The life of learning is difficult, and it is difficult to distinguish good from evil. And often the learned men of our time are only dwarfs on the shoulders of dwarfs.”

Mundum senescit!

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Why just out of interest is eating purple spaghetti so morally ambiguous? I’d have thought it was a good thing to do in Lent… ???

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

My apologies. None of your posts that I have read or have responded to have suggested to me any hint of the heterodox, let alone the more distant, much more dreamed-of ideal – that of the heretic. Small chance of seeing that quality welcomed on Troppo, I fear, considering the recent posts, and the gleeful bonfires that followed.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Lighten up, Rob! Like I said earlier, you can’t have it both ways – when you and your RWDB colleagues were gleefully decrying the evils of po/mo and lauding trad ed, we were told we were sour, humourless lefties. Because the debate on sexuality and schools had fewer people advocating your point of view (and some like observa being a total embarrassment to it), and because people were passionate about it, now suddenly the smoke of Satan has entered the sanctuary (to quote Pope Paul VI).

All the examples I’ve taken above are drawn from previous posts – and I posted a link to the archives.

Anyway, I think your metaphor is a bit mixed. It’s normally the heretics who are for burning. With my close association with the Jesuit Fathers, I could only ever be orthodox.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

But I really don’t think we should follow Kevin’s lead and talk about things other than what Don wants to discuss. So I’ll stop. Goodnight!

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

No, there’s something missing from your response, Mark. The attacks on Ken and Sophie were attacks on people, not ideas. They were intended to hurt and discredit at a personal level. I was very disturbed by that. No disagreement about ideas should involve such tactics but all too often, of course, it does. I was very upset and disappointed to see it in such clear evidence of it at Troppo.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Well, not from me, Rob. I never attacked Sophie and Ken personally as far as I know. A couple of times I clarified things which would perhaps have been ambiguous to make it clear that I wasn’t.

If you want venom and personal attacks, you could read Yobbo’s comments.

But this is way OT and it’s discourteous to Don to continue discussing this, I feel.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I think you’re being disingenuous. But out of respect to Don I agree to drop it – for now.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Just drop it, I’d suggest, Rob. If anyone feels aggrieved at anything I wrote, I’m happy for them to draw it to my attention and if I feel it’s warranted, I’ll gladly apologise for any offence caused.

If the truth be known, all of us probably got a bit heated. I’d like to draw a line under it – I don’t intend to post further on this issue. As I noted above, Sophie’s thread is still open and my editorial suggestion would be that if you wish to carry on this discussion, you do it there:

http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/008684.html

It has nothing to do with Don’s concerns, and the only reason why it’s raised here is because Kevin posted his comment. I’m glad you recognise it’s inappropriate to continue the discussion here, Rob. I’m disinclined to do so anywhere, unless as I said, anyone wants to take issue with me if they’ve taken offence at anything I said (and I assure you none was intended to anyone), but this is *not* the place to be discussing these matters.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
2022 years ago

To go back to Don’s post … The cultural contradictions of capitalism argument – that it undermines the morality on which it is based – has been around since the 18th century. It’s always turned out to be wrong. But there is the possibility that conservative critiques of capitalist excesses are part of the self-corrective mechanisms of a liberal capitalist society. After all, kids should not be encouraged to dress like streetwalkers.

Rafe
2022 years ago

I have to apologise for apparently killing Don’s thread on a solution looking for a problem, and I hope this thread gets back to the interesting issues that Don raised, albeit cast in a slighty cryptic form.
Complaints about modern youth going to the dogs can probably be found on Babylonian tablets, but the situation is complicated in modern times by the rise of Jacobins and the “adversary class” who persist in making efforts to wreck polite society for the whole of their lives. The task of improving society involves a complex mix of imaginative criticism, piecemeal reform and maintenance or conservation of things that are good and valuable. The parallel is with conservation of the natural environment. Strangely, the task of cultural conservation is only recently getting the attention from the left that it needs, congratulations to John Quiggin for his line on this, I forget the label.
There has been too much division of labour in these tasks; radicals have specialised in criticism, revolutionary reformers have dominated social change and the cultural conservatives have mostly been economically illiterate and the economic rationalists have been slow go appreciate the importance of the cultural agenda. But as someone once said, the times they are achanging!

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Daniel Bell made his case rather better than Kay Hymovitz, I think.

I still want to know why the neo-cons decry purple spaghetti.

Rafe
2022 years ago

Careful Mark, maybe someone will get a grant to find out why the neos decry purple spag and then the Minister for Centralisation of Education will get a small frisson of excitement by blocking it.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

There is of course a weaker form of the cultural contradictions of capital argument (the strong form of which I associate with Marx and Weber) which would gain more general acceptance – that the commonality which makes capitalism and liberalism a harmonious pair is the element of freedom of choice (consumption, vocation and style of life, respectively) which both imply.

I’m not utterly convinced by the social capital argument – and I think if true, the causality is more complex than “capitalism” (Marx warned against reification!). But as Andrew Norton would no doubt agree, the “decline of trust” theme is overstated.

We also have to sort out whether the proponents are talking about consumer choice or ethics in business behaviour – the Neo-Cons oppose the first (in effect) and turn a blind eye to the latter. It’s not too complex – it’s the Con in Neo-Con coming out – Western Civ is falling because 12 year old girls dress like Britney Spears.

If you wanted to, you could find much stronger critiques of capitalism and culture.

Clive Hamilton’s puritan Left line also seems very similar to the Daniel Bell position to me.

I don’t want Clive or the Neo-Cons to take away my right to wear Studio Italia pants and Peel shirts and Aquila shoes and drink Whisky Sours. Stuff the boring stuffed shirts of the puritan Left!

(or my right to buy Vogue with Princess Mary on the cover).

Papa, don’t take my gold credit cards away!

There you go, Rob, this “leftie” is agreeing with Andrew Norton!

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

this moral panic about popular culture is ill-founded as is the meme of decline of popular culture relative to yesterday.
not too long ago, the equivalents of today’s critics of rap for instance, labelled jazz as ‘jungle music’ and noted that it was first played in New Orleans brothels. today it is high art. and how many of these )taking my example further) critics of rap music for instance have ever tried to put a verse together or even have the facility to?

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

also I should note that for the Daniel Bells to find a cultural ‘contradiction’ to capitalism they essentially had to posit a self-undermining mechanism i.e.
1)stuffed shirts and Organisation Man are responsible for economic progress
2) children of stuffed shirts don’t grow up to be stuffed shirts because the stuffed shirts produce stuff which undermine the propensities of children to become stuffed shirts
3) soon we are feeding on the ever declining fruits of yesteryears

this causal mechanism is complete crap because stuffed shirts and Organisation Man are not responsible for the Schumpeterian innovations of capitalism – these are the products of college dropouts, weird absent minded geeks (in the IT industries, inventors, tinkerers, scientific eccentrics ) and swaggering romantic bohemian types (e.g. in the cultural industries which have made the US such a powerhouse). There are still more than enough stuffed shirts in the world to diffuse these innovation and make a bundle for themselves

Yobbo
Yobbo
2022 years ago

The whole point of criticising rap is that it’s a derivative art form. It’s not very difficult at all to dub a rythmic vocal over the top of someone’s already existing song.

It’s kind of like blogging in that way. You don’t need to know the first thing about writing to start a blog just as you don’t need to know anything about music to rap.

Nonetheless, there are extremely talented rappers like there are extremely talented bloggers, but a lot of the stuff that manages to make its way into the record shops is the equivalent of publishing Niall Cook in the Wall Street Journal.

toostupid
toostupid
2022 years ago

But they published Arthur Chrenkoff in the Wall Street Journal, didn’t they? What’s the difference?

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

Chrenkoff is intelligent and productive, that’s the difference.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

That reminds me — Niall’s blog now has an open comments thread. It’s here:

http://www.kevgillett.net/mt/archives/000520.html

harry
harry
2022 years ago

I thought the overarching classical neo-con philosophy was that most people were aimless and needed to be lead by an elite who would inspire them in some way. This inspirationation was to come in the form of a big lie that would be simple and obvious and, above all, big.
Communism provided an extremely useful tool in that respect and now terrorism does.
I wasn’t aware that morality entered into it – and I don’t see how it can.
I don’t see how morality entered their economic models either, so this statement that they don’t want kids walkign around like street walkers is perplexing. They seem to have no problem with such behaviour during the sixties and seventies.
Unless of course the next big lie is Defending Morality. This will be defined in the same odd way that they have defined the War on Terror.

This does fit in with the idea that “Human beings, or governments, are not black boxes engaged in a competition of interests. What matters most is the character of the individual, the character of the community and the character of government.” ie Moral Character.

The anti-advertisment idea sure clashes horribly with their liberal economic ideas…?

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

harry they are not economic liberals
they combine the worst of bith worlds – social conservatism and economic statism

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

Gee, what evil people. We ought to round them all up and shoot them.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

and … i forgot to add – the Warfare State.
so quite a trifecta there – enthusiasts for the Nanny/Welfare/Warfare State

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Harry

I think Don is suggesting that there was a slightly older useage of the “neocon” label to describe people like Bell, Hymowitz et al, and that there WAS room for good faith notions of morality and values in their intellectual universe. By contrast, you can’t say any such thing about the Straussian neocons.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

Aha!
More reading needed on my part.
Thank you gentlemen.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

More sense needed on your part, too.

What was the “big lie” of Communism? It really was an oppressive, totalitarian system that sought to engulf the whole world — just as advertised.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

What do you mean “was” dear Pundit? What is China? Earth to planet Evil.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

Okay, I concede that in some places, Communism still exists as an oppressive, totalitarian system. Though these places, like China, seek to embrace the efficient economic methods of Capitalism, while maintaining the social suppression of the Communist system.

Whether they will succeed in this endeavour remains to be seen.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

“Though these places … seek to embrace the efficient economic methods of Capitalism, while maintaining … social suppression …”

Sounds like a very big island I know, and it’s not far away.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

Do tell.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

“Lighten up, Rob! …….. Because the debate on sexuality and schools had fewer people advocating your point of view (and some like observa being a total embarrassment to it), and because people were passionate about it, now suddenly the smoke of Satan has entered the sanctuary”

Well perhaps Hans Christian Anderson meets lefty victim, tear-jerker Mills and Boon with full pike and twist was not exactly your genre Mark, but it did have the effect of lightening up proceedings somewhat, if only for Jason. Now I have a strong feeling the genre will not exactly take off, due to the overall degree of difficulty(try it in Jason’s position) In this respect the author did not particularly mean to impugn Geoff’s Honour there, but was rather musing(in one of his wickedly mischevious and self deprecating moods that besets him from time to time) on a tendency for us all to come face to face with our own real strawmen, while journeying along the yellow brick road of life, toward the ultimate enlightenment of Oz. Can I perhaps suggest a more scholarly and mainstream genre, in order to look at one of its themes presented there at http://abc.net.au/rn/talks/austback/ in particular the Griffith Review ‘Talkback Essay’ on Fundamentalism. It also has much relevance to Don’s post here I believe.

Now let’s focus on the object of Don’s post, where David Brooks in the NYT states:
“It was about this time people started calling The Public Interest a neoconservative magazine. I’m not sure that word still has meaning, but if there was one core insight, it was this: Human beings, or governments, are not black boxes engaged in a competition of interests. What matters most is the character of the individual, the character of the community and the character of government. When designing policies, it’s most important to get them to complement, not undermine, people’s permanent moral aspirations – the longing for freedom, faith and family happiness.
That approach led to welfare policies that encouraged work and responsibility. It also led to what many derided as the overly idealistic foreign policies that are now contributing to the exhilarating revolutions we’re seeing across the Middle East.”

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

“…you might find you have more in common with the Observa than you currently think.”

On the other hand you may find you don’t really want to have that much in common with someone who likes to refer to himself in the third person.