The Problem With Democracy

I didn’t like the first issue of Democracy. Its offerings were uninspiring, to say the least. From a New and Exciting foreign policy philosophy that’s really just a dressed-up version of liberal internationalism, to a highly technical piece by Jason Furman about a single tax deduction, to an exercise in liberal self-hatred that none-too subtly suggests that progressives hate the military, the issue ranged from the useless to the counterproductive. It wasn’t all bad. Gar Alperovitz was fascinating, as he always is, and Jed Purdy’s piece on biopolitics was mildly interesting. But the biggest new idea in a “Big Ideas” magazine shouldn’t be to eliminate the health insurance deduction, and the attitude of a liberal magazine shouldn’t be that liberals are just malevolent idiots who need to be fed ideas, no matter how mundane and pointless.
But I hoped the second issue would be better. It just came out, and it isn’t. There’s the token interesting piece – John Ikenberry about the inevitable backlash against US hegemony’s assault on Westphalian sovereignty – but other than that, it’s worse than issue one. Naazneen Barma and Ely Ratner’s piece on how China’s technocratic autocracy poses some kind of ideological threat to liberal democracy the way Communism did is ridiculous. There are to this day dozens of small Maoist parties in America – but how many Dengist parties can be found? But what infuriated me most was Karen Kornbluh’s piece on the need to expand social insurance. Her conclusions? Rejigger Social Security ever-so-slightly and create some vague thing called “Family Insurance” that would provide limited health care assistance, government-sponsored savings accounts, and extended work leave assistance. This combines Democracy‘s tendency toward overly-tiny ideas (SS tinkering, slightly expanded Family Leave benefits), ideas that have been already developed (government-run saving accounts), and stupid, watered down versions of old, great liberal ideas (health care tax credits and a FEHBP buy-in option). Ken Baer and Andrei Cherny complain in their editors’ note that the magazines’ critics don’t like ideas. Trust me; I like ideas. It’s just that new ones aren’t needed. Liberals have known for years how to conduct foreign policy (liberal internationalism), fix health care (national health insurance), etc. Any new ideas are going to be worse than the old ones or else so small and technical as to not be better suited for a specialists’ journal.

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