The New, New Left: How American Politics Works Today

Article excerpt

The New, New Left: How American Politics Works Today By Steven Malanga Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006. Pp. 157. $22.50 cloth.

In The New, New Left, Steven Malanga argues that contemporary American politics is a battle between those who gain and those who lose economically when government expands. Malanga, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, claims that this battle between "the tax eaters" and "the tax payers" has reached a tipping point, with the tax eaters gaining ascendancy, especially in large cities.

In Malanga's view, the driving force of the tax eaters, the "New New Left," consists of labor unions in general and government-employee unions in particular. These unions-such as the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); the American Federation of Teachers (AFT); and the National Education Association (NEA)-acquired the right to bargain collectively roughly forty years ago, and they have increased their power continuously since then. Malanga emphasizes two pernicious aspects of such bargaining. First, public-employee unions are not bargaining against corporations constrained by fiscal reality, but against government bureaucrats seldom so constrained. second, these same unions exploit their members' dues and votes to elect politicians who will expand the government and to defeat initiatives that seek to slow that expansion.

Aiding the unions in advancing their goals are numerous social-activist "advocacy" organizations. Leftist organizations such as the Association for Community Reform Now (ACORN) and Citizens Action (Ralph Nader's organization) push continuously to expand social spending and governmental regulation. These organizations typically function as statist middlemen, accepting money from unions and pumping it into voter-registration drives, initiative campaigns, political campaign coffers, and so on. Also working to push the New New Left agenda are the highly politicized labor studies programs at public universities and the leftist foundations, such as the Tides Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

As Malanga illustrates repeatedly, the programs that these activists and organizations push usually serve to benefit only themselves. For example, ACORN earns large "consulting" fees from banks that are trying to deal with the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which mandates that banks doing business in a locality must invest a certain percentage of their capital in poorer neighborhoods, but ACORN just coincidentally happens to be a major filer of CRA complaints aimed at stopping bank mergers. Of course, such a scheme comes as no surprise to economists: this sort of action is what public-choice theory predicts.

Especially valuable is Malanga's detailed review of the various battles that the New New Left is fighting. First is the ongoing war to enact "living wage" ordinances in cities all over the country. More than one hundred cities nationwide already have such ordinances in effect, mandating that firms doing business with the city pay markedly higher wages than the prevailing minimum wage. Malanga argues in the manner of Frederic Bastiat that these ordinances are easy to pass because the benefits are obvious to local voters, but the costs (lost jobs, higher taxes) are invisible to them.

Another battle is taking place on college campuses, where organized labor (especially under the leadership of John Sweeney) is attempting systematically to co-opt academic programs and departments. The radicalized departments then function as agitprop machines, turning out cadres of new union organizers and churning out biased research, which serves as propaganda in labor's numerous campaigns.

A third, fiercely fought battle involves the New New Left's attempt to destroy Wal-Mart. Leftist unions-especially the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, along with the aforementioned activist organizations such as ACORN, the National Organization for Women, and even environmentalist organizations-have worked with some success to get local governments to block the opening of new Wal-Marts, especially the new superstores, which sell groceries as well as general merchandise. …