Opposition to Donald Trump has been a unifying force for Democrats. Progressive and moderate factions of the party set aside their differences during the race, but what happens if Joe Biden wins? How do Democrats maintain cohesion when progressives are gaining strength and formerly Republican college-educated whites stream into the party? What happens to a post-Trump GOP? Does it continue to hang together or split up into rival factions vying for control of the party?
Steven Teles, a Johns Hopkins political scientist and Niskanen senior fellow, argues we’re heading for a de-polarizing era of party factionalization. In this episode we talk about Teles’ essay in National Affairs, “The Future is Faction” and the final chapter of his new book “Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites” (both with co-author Robert Saldin), both of which analyze the prospects of intra-party division, weakening control by leadership, and the renewed possibility of bipartisan coalitions and moderation in policymaking.
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Readings: “The Future is Faction” and Never Trump: Revolt of the Conservative Elites by Steven Teles and Robert Saldin
Will Wilkinson: Hi Steve. How are you doing?
Steve Teles: I’m doing about as well as could be expected. So everything we always have to norm to the apocalyptic nature of our times. But within that context I’m doing fine.
Will Wilkinson: Yeah. What is to be expected. Are we supposed to be stoics bearing up proudly against the dark times.
Steve Teles: I mean we are obviously in the one percent of people who can best handle this situation. So frankly nobody gives a crap about any problems we’re having. Even more than normal people we can do our jobs sitting here, podcasting. This is what we were doing before and it’s what we’re doing now. So I’m still writing. I just got finished working on a case about how AEI almost went out of business in the mid eighties. So that was an interesting sort of little detour.
Will Wilkinson: I didn’t know that.
Steve Teles: Yep. AEI, it was sort of a family business. Bill Baroody Sr. was the one who really made it into a big deal. And then he literally handed the think tank over to his son, Bill Baroody Jr in 1978. And for lots of complicated reasons that I get into in the paper they ended up 9 million dollars in the hole and came very close to going bankrupt. Were saved by David Packard who we don’t usually now think of as one of the great conservative philanthropists.
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Teles: But he was a very important board member of AEI and him and a bunch of the rest of the board saved the organization, fired Bill Baroody Jr. and hired Chris DeMuth who took AEI to sort of heights of centrality in the conservative think tank movement. For whatever we think about that, right people have, as they say your mileage may vary on that.
Will Wilkinson: I had no idea I always thought of it as a pretty generously bankrolled place because they always had good lunches. They’d have free lunch if you went to a conference and it was pretty good. So I thought they must be swimming in it over at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research or whatever the actual name is.
Steve Teles: I mean in the 70s AEI was pretty significantly challenged for pre-eminence in the conservative think tank world by Heritage. And from that period up through the kind of mid 80s, they were trying to figure out how to compete in a world in which Heritage had become so central and a lot of the story, there’s a kind of sociological underline about sort of competition in organizational fields somewhere there. But AEI had not really figured that out. And in some ways they kind of went for broke in trying to establish a new profile and got out ahead of their skis financially in terms of… They put out a bunch of stuff they thought would attract tons of donor attention and they actually went through planning to have a new building on Pennsylvania Avenue, was like 12th and Pennsylvania. They were going to take five top floors. Apparently there was going to be a Squash Court.
Will Wilkinson: That would’ve been sweet.
Steve Teles: Yeah exactly. You could go from the Squash Court to the lunchroom, you’d never actually have to get anything done.
Will Wilkinson: The Niskanen Center needs a Squash Court. Now that’s a demand that I have that I’m not going to give up on.
Steve Teles: Yeah I actually think any philanthropists listening to this, this is definitely a naming opportunity.
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Exactly like we could use that you know the Jack Dorsey Squash Court. Well it’s great that we just launched into it. Welcome to Model Citizen Steve. We’re nervous a little bit because we are on the eve of the presidential election. As we speak, there is a little less than a week to go. It’s looking good for Joe Biden. But the president every day is announcing his intention to cheat as much as he can. He’s good at that stuff. It’s nerve wracking. Last time he won an electoral college victory despite losing the popular vote by nearly three million. Still people are kind of like… You’re not sure that we’re going to get rid of the guy but partly because of just the focus on whether or not we’re going to be stuck with Trump for another four years. There hasn’t been a lot of thinking about what the world might look like in a relatively normal presidency under Joe Biden.
People are just hoping, not people but most people in America, if you believe the polls, are hoping that Joe Biden becomes President but they’re not thinking much beyond that. You wrote a great essay in National Interest. Robert Saldin…
Steve Teles: National Affairs.
Will Wilkinson: National Affairs, they’re all interest or affairs.
Steve Teles: Yeah, no, all these magazines are put together with those little fridge magnet names that only have about eight different words and they’re all just put together in American Affairs, American Interest, National Interest, National Affairs, right? We’re running out of possible names. Yeah. So that was with Rob Saldin at University of Montana. Yeah.
Will Wilkinson: Current affairs. So there needs to be current interest, American-
Steve Teles: I think that maybe on a TV show with Maury Povich.
Will Wilkinson: Oh yeah.
Steve Teles: Maybe, yeah.
Will Wilkinson: Is Maury Povich still alive? I feel like… I don’t know.
Steve Teles: That’s an excellent question. We need to get on top of that.
Will Wilkinson: It is an excellent question. But we’ll put a pin in that, for now. So you wrote this great piece with Robert Saldin who is a political scientist where?
Steve Teles: University of Montana.
Will Wilkinson: The University of Montana, big sky country. And it was called The Future Is Faction. And you also published a version of this for the Niskanen Center. And it envisions some possibilities for the realignment of political coalitions in American politics that I think a lot of people would be surprising. So I wanted to talk a little bit about that today and consider what we might expect from the Democratic Party, from the Republican Party after the much hoped for demise of Donald Trump. So part of the point of your paper is that our party politics have been incredibly polarized for a long, long time. And that has created a lot of party unity. The caucuses in Congress are really solid blocs. They tend to vote together and hang together. There’s not a lot of overlap. There’s not a lot of… When you look at those… What’s the?
Steve Teles: DW-Nominate.
Will Wilkinson: Yeah, yeah. You read my mind, DW-Nominate, they do these kind of cloud visualizations of members of Congress on a left to right dimension. And you’d have all this overlap between Republican and Democratic members of Congress. And then over time they’ve just drifted apart. Now those clouds are just miles apart from touching for the most part. So there’s very little bipartisan legislation. There’s some, but there’s not a lot that’s successful. But you’re predicting that that could come back and that that could be a moderating influence on politics in the United States. You want to explain why you think that that might happen.
Steve Teles: Yeah. So this paper, The Future Is Faction first the Niskanen version and then the National Affairs piece came out of the book Never Trump that I wrote with Rob. And in the conclusion we tried to do… I mean you know this, you’ve been in this business for a long time. The last chapter of most books sucks. And so we tried to do something different other than just summarizing what we already said. We tried to imagine what would a world look like in which some of the kind of figures that we were talking about in the book would be more relevant, right. How would the larger structural environment change that would make that happen. And what we were saying there, first of all is that the level of polarization we have today and in particular the level of party homogeneity and party discipline is very unusual in American history.
The reason for that is we have a deeply institutionally entrenched system of two party governance. And that’s way more than pretty much any other country in the world for lots of institutional reasons having to do with first-past-the-post elections and other reasons. And the fact that we have first-past-the-post elections and we don’t have regionally concentrated sort of separatist parties, right. So in Britain you can get elected as an S&P or [inaudible 00:10:00], within those sort of [inaudible 00:10:01], pronounce my Welsh words correctly.
Will Wilkinson: It’s impossible to pronounce Welsh words correctly.
Steve Teles: Yeah but we don’t have a Cascadian separatist party. I know people who would like to start a Cascadian separatist party but we don’t have one, right. They would be able to succeed in a first-past-the-post system, right?
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Teles: Because their opposition would be so geographically concentrated. But we don’t have that and yet we’re also an enormous country, right? With enormous economic, social and other heterogeneity. And the way we’ve handled the fact that we have a two party system and yet we have enormous heterogeneity historically is we’ve had lots of heterogeneity organized, and this is the important point of the paper, organized heterogeneity inside the party. Our parties have had deeply organised factions, right. So in the Republicans we had moderate Republicans of the kind that our colleague Geoff Kabaservice wrote about and conservatives. The Democrats obviously had an entire segregationist faction as well as urban party machines and liberal progressives, right. They were all in the same party.
And historically those were deeply organized, they had their own sources of money, their own sources of ideas, their own often geographic or functional foundations in society, different voter blocs that supported them. And one of the pieces of political science we draw on is the work by John Aldrich and David Rohde on Conditional Party Governance. And what essentially they argue is when you have a high level of internal party heterogeneity, right? And that internal party heterogeneity is a fairly consistent although not completely consistent feature of American political parties then those parties are not going to highly empower their leadership to control the agenda, right.
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Teles: Because in many cases they’re going to want to make coalitions with the other party and also because there’s so much ideological space covered by those factions. They’re not going to trust their leaders in a kind of principal agent model to act on their interests, right? Whereas parties that are highly homogeneous, you’re not taking a big risk empowering any particular individual to control the agenda because they’re going to be pretty close to you in any case, right.
Will Wilkinson: Yeah. They’re all the same.
Steve Teles: So the basic theory here is that when you have high degrees of internal party heterogeneity you get weak leadership, when you get high degrees of party internal homogeneity you get strong empowered leadership that tries to make sure that you only make coalitions within your party and you don’t make coalitions across your party. And so that’s one way to think about what American politics has looked like over the last twenty five years or so is we’ve had a decline in factional heterogeneity, right. So it’s not just that sort of DW-Nominate way of thinking about this, right? But we literally don’t have organized factions that can coordinate the behavior of their members to express whatever heterogeneity exists. And as a consequence you get strong party leaders that control the agenda. And this is where I had a little bit of a difference with some of the DW-Nominate way to think about the world, right. Is the DW-Nominate thing treats the agenda as somehow separate from what party leaders are doing. Right.
But the whole point of a strong party leadership thing is it wants things on the floor of Congress to be voted for where all of its members agree and they all disagree with the other party.
Will Wilkinson: What subjects come up for a vote isn’t exogenous.
Steve Teles: Exactly, right. So some of that homogeneity that you’re describing is a institutional equilibrium rather than an equilibrium of the preferences of the members, right. And obviously we know that at Niskanen because we talk to members all the time who say, “I really wish we were voting on something different. I wish this issue was on the agenda where we would be doing stuff with the other side.” And they expressed frustration about that. And yet they can’t do anything about it. And in my story that’s partially because they don’t have the factional organization to force leadership to allow for a different kind of agenda that would express different kinds of preferences. And that’s not the only reason, right. The other thing that factions do is they recruit candidates, right. They go out and try and find candidates who often are different than what the leadership wants. They raise money for them. They develop ideas for them.
And so the underlying argument here is that the level of polarization we have is a function of the absence of factional organization not just factional organization in Congress but factional organization in society, right? One thing that factions do is they go out and find people and mobilize them, right. And that’s what’s more or less been lacking in the last twenty five years. But our argument is that’s kind of at the moment of cracking, right. That especially in the aftermath of this election for a lot of reasons, we’re going to see the emergence, which you’re already seeing in a way with what you might call this DSA or AOC faction, right. They’re already doing this.
Will Wilkinson: Right.
Steve Teles: They’re already out there organizing people in Brooklyn to go and raise money and come up with ideas.
Will Wilkinson: You have the Justice Democrats and the Democratic Socialist of America who work within the Democratic Party. But there’s a clear distinction between them and the leadership of the Democratic Party. On Twitter if you read the Twitter feeds of DSA types, I mean there’s-
Steve Teles: Not something that we’re recommending by the way.
Will Wilkinson: -Well it’s definitely not appropriate for children. No, but the Democratic Party leadership is not beloved by this faction like the… And sometimes you get more vitriol from these groups who are functionally a part of the Democratic Party. They sound more mad about the Democratic Party than Republicans do sometimes.
Steve Teles: So one way we’re thinking about this is that some of this factional organization is reactive, right. So one would think about this is you can think about the DSA as the first mover in some of this process. Right. They’re going out there, they’re creating magazines, they’ve created the whole funding structure that can fund candidates, can fund primary challenges. They have organizations. Again there are like cells meeting in Brooklyn, in Madison, in Los Angeles and San Francisco, all over the country of these sorts of people in there. So this is connecting them horizontally to one another, right. And that’s allowing them to engage in things like primary challenges but also ideological challenges where they’re trying to force the party to consider issues that the rest of the party had been hesitant to consider. And that then creates, we think reactive organization, right.
So if you think about the cases like in Missouri where the African-American Member of Congress got challenged by a Justice Democrat and knocked off, right. That’s got to be a signal to everybody else, for example who’s in the Black Caucus, right? To look around and say, “We either need to join them or we need to arm up to protect ourselves and we need to do that collectively.” Right? And that’s where we think, one, that… Well you might think of as the Bidenite majority interest group coalition of the Democratic Party is going to have to organize in a more factional way that is traditionally that coalition of core party interest groups, right. Whether it’s feminists or environmentalists or African-Americans, they previously just thought of themselves as the party that was what the party was, was that bargaining between those core interest groups with the UCLA School calls sort of high policy demanders. Right. That’s what they thought of as the party.
Now they’re having to realize that they actually don’t monopolize all of the organization in the party and that they in some ways have a profound distinct organizational difference from Justice Democrats or DSA, whatever you want to call them. So they’re going to have to organize themselves. And in the Democratic Party we argue there’s likely to be a third faction that emerges which we call sort of Market Liberals which have a different financial basis. It’s more likely to be Silicon Valley, it’s more likely to be parts of finance, they’re people who come from purple districts, they generally tend to be more market oriented. And they’re particularly worried about the effect that the DSA mobilization is going to have on the party brand and the degree to which the party brand then is a drag for them in places where… And so they have a degree to want to organize a kind of counter brand inside the Democratic Party and not dissimilar from the way that the DLC did in the 80s where they can say, “Oh I’m not that kind of Democrat. I’m a Market Liberal Democrat.” Or whatever they want to call it.
And so we think that eventually what’s going to happen is the Democratic Party is really going to split into three internally organized factions with different financial bases, different organizational connections. And the party is going to be organized around bargaining and competition internally between those factions. So the Market Liberals, right, which is what you might call the moderate faction although I’m increasingly uncomfortable. I just don’t think that term does a lot for me analytically. So there’s the Market Liberals, what you might call Bidenite or sort of mainstream. They are like the ancien régime of the Democratic Party. And then the sort of DSA faction.
Will Wilkinson: Which is… So the second one is the Bidenite part is that is the current power structure which is incredibly old, right?
Steve Teles: Yes.
Will Wilkinson: Like this sort of the candidate is… How old is Joe Biden? Seventy four.
Steve Teles: Oh he’s unbelievably old, yeah.
Will Wilkinson: That’s not unbelievably old, Steve. It’s just-
Steve Teles: If you have seen him on live [inaudible 00:20:17].
Will Wilkinson: [crosstalk 00:20:17] Silver Fox [inaudible 00:20:18]. No, he’s… Yeah. But it’s getting up there. He’s within striking distance of his expected lifespan. Nancy Pelosi is nearly 90, right.
Steve Teles: Right.
Will Wilkinson: I mean.-
Steve Teles: Is she that old?
Will Wilkinson: No, Dianne Feinstein is like 89. How old is Nancy Pelosi?
Steve Teles: Something like that, right.
Will Wilkinson: She’s old and Chuck Schumer is not like a spring chicken either.
Steve Teles: But I think the underlying point is not just that they’re old but the deal is old.
Will Wilkinson: Right.
Steve Teles: This is one way we think about and so we do in a way piggyback on the UCLA School of parties in thinking about a party fundamentally is this coalition, right? It’s a coalition of the high policy demanders, it’s not very big. And they can sit around a table and they all take a blood oath to support each other and not to mess with each other’s deal. But one consequence of that is that leads each member to sort of reorient their positions closer to those of the other… So one thing we know about African-American, if you look at African-American public opinion, there is a lot of opposition to abortion within them, right. None of that gets expressed for the most part in any of the actual African-American public officials because they’re in a coalition deal with feminists, right. And that’s one thing that David Karol shows in his book Party Position Change is a lot of that change happens as that fundamental party coalition deal gets concretized, right?
So that really is right. That’s the old Coke of the Democratic Party. That’s the… And obviously the party leadership now is highly committed because they were the people who made the blood oath of what that party is. And that’s part of the heat of this is they see people who are outside of that oath who didn’t make that deal, who didn’t agree to all support each other, come fair or foul. And that’s where I think a lot of that heat, it’s not just ideational, it’s not just about different ideologies. It’s about how they imagine what a party is and how it’s constituted. And the DSA people are quite honest about saying they want the Democrat Party to be a social movement party, right? They look at the Republicans and say that’s a social movement party. We ought to be like that.
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Teles: Whereas the Democratic Party has more traditionally been a grab bag of all these interest groups who at some point figured out a way to make their various different central commitments seem consistent with one another but that are not fundamentally constituted either as a class party or a social movement or even as a profoundly ideological party. And that’s where some of the conflict I think here exists.
Will Wilkinson: Yeah. And that’s one of the reasons why a lot of times highly informed, highly engaged liberal Democrats are often infuriated with their own party because it’s a party that is relatively non ideological but some of its most fervent supporters are pretty ideological. And they want to see a party that represents their ideological zeal. And that’s part of where the juice for the progressive wing is coming from, that’s like white liberals, the biggest demographic part of the Democratic Party have only been getting more liberal. Some of it’s an age thing but the party’s never going to be very unified for reasons that you mentioned. It’s really very agated. The main reason why polarization has been asymmetric. The Democratic Party just has a lot of different kinds of people in it. African-American voters on the whole aren’t extremely liberal because it runs the whole gamut from extremely liberal to extremely conservative African-Americans.
Steve Teles: Right, on a previous podcast you had our newest Senior Fellow we keep having to mention Mike Fortner who wrote a great paper for us that I worked with him on for a long time that was getting at the diversity of African-American opinion on criminal justice which I think the sort of subtext of that paper is about the heterogeneity of African-Americans on a much broader range of issues. And the degree to which that’s connected not just generationally, which I think when I listened to your conversation that was a lot of the focus of that.
Will Wilkinson: Right.
Steve Teles: But the generational, I actually think is actually really a function of both secularism versus religiosity which also correlates with age and sort of orientation toward authority, right. Including authority inside the African-American community and that’s where if you look at a lot of the what’s going on with BLM and the sort of associated movements, white people often think that BLM is all about them, right? And people being angry at them. But a lot of BLM is actually oriented internally, right. It’s about… This is why they use terms like respectability politics. Well, respectability politics is about something inside the African-American community. It’s not really about white people, right. And so again as you mentioned and as you’ve done in your previous work because African-Americans are all shoved into the Democratic Party, they include a very large number of people who just on the fundamental things that lead people to kind of cultural orientations that drive ideology are pretty conservative people.
Will Wilkinson: And the same for Hispanics, the same for Asians, all of which are a growing piece of the electorate and all of those non-white groups are very heavily tilted toward the Democratic Party. But an ethnic group is fundamentally different from an ideological faction. Ideology to some extent and people disagree about this stuff, some of it’s going to reflect variation in individual personalities and psychologies and dispositions. And if a party represents a whole ethnicity, it’s going to run the entire range of those dispositions from liberal to conservative, interested in new stuff to wanting things to be the way that they’ve always been. And so you’re going to get tension within those groups and those groups are going to be intention. If you take the average of those groups because they go all the way across the continuum, the average is going to be somewhere in the middle. But the average of white Democrats isn’t in the middle. Because white people in our country are sorted on ideology.
This is one of the reasons why the parties became more polarized is that white people sorted on… You might say ideology but also just on these fundamental dispositions like ethnocentrism and things like that. So that the white people in the Democratic Party are generally very socially liberal to the left of the average of their party whereas Republicans are people who are very socially conservative. Just back to the 60s or 70s you’d have lots of socially conservative white Democrats, lots of socially liberal Republicans. But that’s just not the case. And that’s part of the reason why the parties have gone apart. But within the Democratic Party, that dynamic is actually creates more tension while it reduces tension in the Republican Party because Republicans have become more homogeneous over time.
Steve Teles: Right, so one, in my factional sort of model, right? One implication of this is that what I think is still the sort of bare majority of African-Americans and larger in certain parts of the country like the south, they are going to stick pretty much with the majority Bidenite traditional old Coke Democratic Party. So again remember when we saw that sort of roll of Democratic Party by states and they had I don’t remember which state that where the woman who did it was almost the perfectly classic African-American church, Democratic party lady, right?
Will Wilkinson: Yeah.
Steve Teles: And she is not joining a social movement party that’s calling for defunding the cops, right. That’s just not the kind of person, right. These are actually quite authority oriented people, right. And some of that authority is also what they think of the… In the Democratic Party, they think the Democratic Party and that older deal that I talk about is having [inaudible 00:28:21] is part of that authority structure that they want to maintain. And whereas the younger more left part of the African-American community is a natural constituency for part of that progressive left DSA kind of faction. And I think there’s actually a smaller one that you could imagine being a more sort of middle class professional part of the African-American community that you can imagine being a constituency for the Market Liberals. These are the kind of people who are often in favor of school choice, are more entrepreneurial. They’re going to split into various different factions themselves. Now, well that’s something we’ll talk about with the Republicans.
There’s no reason why a conservative party, and they do in other countries, right? Other countries that are not radically unlike our own Canada, Britain, right? The Conservative Party contests actually fairly effectively for the votes of ethnic minorities. One of the distinctive features in the United States is that our Conservative Party, the Republican Party has taken themselves out of the battle for those. And that’s partially because the overall brand is so severely polluted. And that’s one of the points I would make is some of that factional division inside the Republican Party might partially de-pollute some of the brand because just like with the Market Liberals who want to differentiate their brand from what they see as they increasingly polluted brand driven by AOC and the left, you can imagine what we call liberal conservatives developing a minority brand inside the Republican Party. They might be able to compete for some percentage of ethnic minority votes even as the majority brand in the Republican Party continues to be polluted by association with racism and racial stratification.
Will Wilkinson: Right there I think there’s a lot of folks, especially a lot of Democrats who are going to question that because they’re not seeing any variation or diversity within the Republican Coalition. But this gets back to the point that you were making before about sort of leadership power and agenda control, right? So the fact that Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump over the last four years, have been controlling the policy agenda of the Republican Party doesn’t mean that those are the agenda priorities of all of the rank and file members of the party. Right. They might bitch and moan like crazy about… They’ve got issues that they want to get on the agenda that they can’t. They might think some of these are important but it’s not the things they care most about. And there is a partly because of the overall uniformity and homogeneity of the party, it’s easy for leadership to exercise a fairly strong amount of control. So leadership can credibly commit to punishing kind of defectors on votes and messaging in a way that keeps people in line but doesn’t mean that they necessarily agree.
Steve Teles: Right. So there’s a bunch of moving pieces. This is where it’d be good if we had a blackboard or if you keep all the tracks so-
Will Wilkinson: Imagine a blackboard.
Steve Teles: Imagine a blackboard assume a blackboard. So right now we have the Republican Party that we can see, right? On which is again just like we think about the sort of the blood oath that I talked about before. The Republican Party have a blood oath of gun owners, social conservatives, business, extractive industries. That’s the people sitting around the table making the blood oath who have a deal with one another. And that coalition has stayed together pretty well under the Trump Administration, right? The defects in the whole argument of the Never Trump book is the defections in the Republican Party were the defections of the professional cadre of the Republican Party, right? It was never elected officials and it was never the core coalition partners, it was that each party has to have this substantial army of professionals to run campaigns, the staff administrations, to provide ideas. And that’s where the Never Trumpers came from.
Will Wilkinson: Right. There’s this sub title of your book it’s The Revolt of the Conservative Elites.
Steve Teles: Exactly, available in all [inaudible 00:32:36] bookstores.
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Teles: So the argument here is, got a couple of pieces, one, right. Trump could lose and he could lose big, right? It’s not impossible if things, depending on what things go, right, that you could wake up in a week or so and Biden could have gotten four hundred electoral votes and there could be 53 or 54 Democratic members in the Senate, that’s on one pretty far end of the distribution of possibilities. But it’s in the possibility spectrum. And if that happens, it’s going to create a lot of complications. On the one hand, all the Republicans who are going to be left, are going to be more Trumpy. Right. Because the people who are going to lose especially in Congress are going to be the more reformist, the less Trumpy people because those are the people who are vulnerable. On the other hand, a lot of the Republican Party is potentially going to freak out because they’re going to worry that they’re going to get governed by Democrats under iron boot for a thousand year Reich.
And that’s going to really, I think set some terrors through people and they’re going to worry that 2016 was really the last time that they could run an election and beat Democrats in the way that they did, right. Demographically that was the last time you could run that kind of campaign. And I think one thing that’s going to do, right, is and again remember in our argument and the way I think about politics I actually don’t use rank and file or the voters as the primary factor, right. That is I have a much more supply side theory of politics in which the people who are providing options and alternatives are much more the sort of primitive foundation of politics and voters are reactions. They react to that but they don’t themselves, they’re not the primary agent in political history. And so one thing is especially we think about the thunder base for political activity which is really important. A lot of that has been really profoundly frozen by the Trump years.
Part of that is, worry about being punished by a Trump Administration, right. This is a administration that’s been willing to use its discretionary economic power in some very significantly political ways, in ways Hayek would not have been surprised by, by the way. Which is one of the reasons why he’d like the rule of law as opposed to discretion. And I think also they were getting a lot of stuff, right. They were getting a lot of big tax cuts. And even where they had suspicions or criticisms of the Trump Administration, they were hesitant to really go into all out factional warfare. You see this a little bit with the Chamber of Commerce. So the Chamber of Commerce was willing to go along pretty well with the Trump Administration. But now they’ve actually endorsed a number of Democrats in the upcoming election, way more than they had before. Some of that is because these issues around trade, where those sort of Market Liberal types who they end up endorsing on the Democratic Party are much more pro-free trade, immigration.
The Chamber tends to be much more pro-immigration as do, the market liberal kind of Democrats that they endorse. And so you can imagine some of that sort of internal factional competition in the Republican Party becoming much more severe. The sort of substantial part of business breaking off of its sort of blood oath and becoming an anchor tenant of a minority Liberal Conservative faction along with a lot of the professional organizational intellectual base of the Republican Party and a geographically concentrated base of Republican voters who can appeal to especially and this is where what’s going on the Democratic Party, what’s going on the Republican Party are connected. The more the Democratic Party in some of these places gets pulled to the left, the more the openings there are for Republicans to compete if they can detach themselves from the overall polluted Republican brand. And again you’ve written it and Reihan Salam has written a little bit about this, right. One of the problems with political competition in our big cities is we only have these two national brands, right?
Will Wilkinson: Right.
Steve Teles: We have a New York specific right of the Democratic Party brand that can compete and that general Republican brand is polluted for all kinds of reasons, right? But you can imagine that’s one thing a faction can do is it can say, “We’re the progressive Republican or conservative, liberal conservative.” Whatever you call them, right.
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Teles: And you really don’t want Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, right, governed by these far out lefties on their own, right. And I don’t think most of the voter base, right. And so you can see this in the fact that Maryland elects Larry Hogan, Massachusetts elects Charlie Baker. Those are really what you might call adult supervision Republicans. Right. They’re the ones who say, “Look if you let Democrats who have these enormous majorities in state legislatures govern on their own, right. They’re going to crap on the floor and take all the food out of the closets and eat all the cookies, right.” And so they run, as basically saying we’re going to provide adult supervision for that.
Will Wilkinson: Now it’s not my feeling that in Massachusetts or Maryland that Hogan or Baker win because there’s some worry about Democratic leadership being too far to the left in a Justice Democrats sense. I think a lot of it has to do, and I think this is like another involution or complication in the Democratic Party structure is that it dominates municipal politics in big cities. And that is a lot of power. The structures there are deep and entrenched and a lot of them are incredibly old and go all the way back to the days of cronyist patronage politics. And so Municipal Democratic politics, is still kind of like a cronyist patronage system that is kind of fundamentally corrupt in a way the rest of the Democratic Party, isn’t necessarily?
And what I see happen in places Massachusetts and Maryland that puts all sorts of weird constraints on things and Democrats within the state party structure of highly urbanised states are so enmeshed in those machines that you get a demand for somebody who’s kind of clear of that, who is going to be beholden to all of these factions and interest groups and who can just be like, “Okay here’s what we need for a quality environment in Maryland for business.” But since that’s a governor and they don’t have a vote in the Senate, they don’t have to worry that Larry Hogan is going to ban abortion, right? So that’s why they’ll pick a Republican governor but not a Republican Senate.
Steve Teles: Right. So traditionally I mean Massachusetts is interesting. Go all the way back to 1990, right. Bill Weld is governor then Paul Cellucci. Nobody remembers Paul Cellucci. He was a Republican from 97 to 2001. Then Jane Swift who people really don’t remember was governor from 2001-
Will Wilkinson: I really don’t remember.
Steve Teles: -To 2003, right? Then Mitt Romney was governor from 2003 to 2007.
Will Wilkinson: Who is that?
Steve Teles: Exactly. But that’s a long period.
Will Wilkinson: Right.
Steve Teles: That’s a really long period of Republican governance and I think traditionally the way that Republicans ran in some of these states like California too Arnold Schwarzenegger runs in some ways like this too is that’s more of a sort of clean governance model, right?
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Teles: Where they say again, if we leave the Democrats on their own they’re going to steal everything. They’re not going to leave any of the silverware, right. And some of that traditionally was, as you were saying about machine politics, right.
Will Wilkinson: Well they’re going to funnel all your tax money to the union pensions and then there won’t be any leftover to build the extension on the interstate that you need in…
Steve Teles: Right, now that’s why again people like Baker and Hogan have run as fairly non-ideological candidates and as personalistic candidates, right? They didn’t really put themselves forward as the leader of their party. They said, “I personally am going to use the executive branch to put a constraint on the democratic parties, the machine distributive kind of politics.” Now that’s where I think the increasingly ideological character of the democratic party in some of these States, these are also the States where the Justice Democrats left are strongest. And they’re going to increasingly displace the sort of establishment machine part of the democratic party. Right? And so you look at the 2018 election in Maryland, right? The Democratic Party puts up Ben Jealous as their candidate. Who’s much more like that left part right, rather than an establishment Democrat. And that’s the future in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland.
A lot of these States is as that left part of the party gets stronger, Democrats are going to start taking bigger and bigger risks, right? Now sometimes they’re going to win with candidates like that. And they’re going to pass tons of often transformative legislation, but they’re also going to open up space for a Republican Party. But I think a Republican Party that’s going to have to have a somewhat more ideologically defined, distinct brand of governance to match that ideologically distinct left-brand, right. They’re going to have to fight some degree of fire with fire in places like that. While simultaneously aiming their fire at other Republicans. Because some of their getting in fights with populous nationalist Republicans is what’s going to earn them the credibility to say, “We’re not one of them, right? But we’re also not these lefties who keep trying to take over Massachusetts governance and socialize everything.”
Will Wilkinson: When you’re talking, I was thinking about what was actually interesting and weird about the Democratic Senate race in Massachusetts, like Patrick Kennedy primaries, Ed Markey, who is deeply enmeshed in the old school Democratic power structure. But what Markey did to defend himself was basically affiliated himself with the Justice Democrat types and ran off their steam to fend off a Kennedy who’s historically incredibly popular in Massachusetts. Because the Kennedy brand is this very old school brand. And it totally worked. He tacked left to get that energy from the AOC types. And they came around, they supported him because he gave them a bunch of promises. But that shows you that the old blood oath is breaking apart. Because he had to make a different agreement to hang on against a challenger. Right.
Steve Teles: Right. And that’s why I think a lot of these, any complex game theoretic situation, right. The moves of one part all have reverberations for everybody else, right. And a lot of that hasn’t been entirely settled, right? This is a really unstable equilibrium now where actors are trying to figure out how they maneuver in a environment like this, right. And so some of those, right, again, if you think about, we’ve been mainly talking about Democratic Party, we should talk probably more about the Republican Party in a second. But those mainstream blood oath Democrats, right, are going to have to think about where they want to make… Because they’re not going to be the majority. They’re not going to be able to govern on their own. And they’re going to have to make decisions about whether to primarily enter into coalition with market liberals, right, who have one set of money, one set of ideas, that they can bring to the table or to the Justice Democrats side, right.
So Markey is a good example of somebody who’s basically a blood oath mainstream Democrat, but has decided that at least in Massachusetts, he has to enter into coalition with AOC type Democrats, right. Other people are going to make other kinds of calculations. And that’s a lot of what the primary politics of the Democratic Party is going to look like, right? It’s going to look like candidates deciding, and that’s going to affect a lot of the sort of VP selection in the future in the way that it did. Historically, right, where some of that decision about VPs was about giving a position to the minority faction, the losing faction in an election. And I think you’re going to see some of that going forward in 2024, 2028. A lot of this is going to be a much more structured bargaining kind of situation within the parties.
And certainly within the Democratic Party and depending on how much that minority faction gets built in the Republican Party, you’re going to see some of that kind of bargaining situation. But just to go all the way back to where we talked about before, one of the implications of this theory is, to the degree, to what you have, parties that have organized heterogeneity. And again, it’s really important the point about organized heterogeneity, it’s not just heterogeneity and underlying preferences. But it’s the degree to which people can coordinate their actions, right? You’re going to get weaker leadership, right? That’s the main thing that… And this is another one of these things that then reverberates across parties, right? [crosstalk 00:46:18].
Will Wilkinson: Because effective leadership is going to have to be, in order to get things done, they’re going to have to make concessions to these various factions on what gets on the agenda and what gets what priority. They’re going to have to make some compromises to hold the overall coalition together. And that just means that they can’t impose their will in the way that they used to.
Steve Teles: But also some of what these party factions are going to want is the ability to work with the other side.
Will Wilkinson: Yeah.
Steve Teles: And that’s true of functions in both sides, right? That is Justice Democrats are going to want to be able to work on trade issues with populist Republicans, right? Market liberals are going to want to work on Niskaneny kind of stuff, right. They’re going to work on occupational licensing and zoning reform and other things with market oriented liberal conservatives in the Republican Party.
Will Wilkinson: Carbon pricing, things like that. Yeah. So I want to talk about that overlap because I think it’s really interesting to get to two observations there. One going back to Republican governors in Liberal States, stuff about old Democratic city machine politics aside, what those cases really do illustrate is that there is a significant number of Democratic voters who are willing to vote for a moderate Republican. And what I think a lot of it is, is in places like Maryland or Massachusetts, you’ve got a very big class of highly educated, high income professionals. And that class has drifted away from the Republican Party. It’s really significant that not that long ago, Democrats and Republicans split about evenly on whites with a college degree, that’s just collapsed for the Republican Party. White people with a college degree, just favored the Democratic Party by a huge margin.
White people with professional and graduate degrees, it’s just an overwhelming margin that favors the Democrats. But those are all people who earn a relatively large amount of money, who are going to tend to not want to pay just a ton of taxes. And so Republican governors can be appealing in that they will be a little more fiscally prudent and aren’t going to be approving of kind of putative tax rates. And so in that sense, those Democratic voters really do want to hold off the progressive left and that division within the Democratic Party has just gotten worse. Partly because of Trump they’ve bled so many of those voters, those educated voters are the least likely to be moved in any way by ethnocentric, dog whistling, race baiting. It really turns that class of people off. So they’ve substantially shifted to the Democratic Party.
But the reasons that they were voting Republican before still persist, they like dynamic competitive open markets, they like not paying 60% top tax rates and things like that. And so some of the possibility for crossover comes from the fact that there’s a big class of people, a fairly large portion of whom were recently Republican. And so they’re not going to be so wary of transgressing partisan lines.
Steve Teles: Yeah. So one way to think about this, I actually think the thing that’s distinctive about that group of voters is not actually as much about tax issues. Now again, it’s important to be clear about whether we’re talking about voters or we’re talking about like organization.
Will Wilkinson: Yeah. Absolutely.
Steve Teles: And where elites are concerned, right, there is interesting research that you know of by the people at Stanford when they did lots of interviews with startup executives in Silicon Valley, this work and the thing that’s interesting is they’re actually pretty supportive of redistribution and social insurance. What they really don’t like is they really don’t particularly like regulation and they’re not very keen on unions, right. And that’s where, again, the thing they’re going to be most worried about is they’re again especially not particularly enthusiastic about public sector unions. They like the idea that there might be lots of redistribution, but they’re not as keen on all of that being captured by Democratic professional producer interests, right. This is why they tend to be more sympathetic to school choice, for example, right, or to charter schools, right. Because they don’t love the idea of a government per producer interest monopoly. Apart because they have a general affect toward competition. Right. Which is, again, the thing that’s like underneath ideology, there’s a kind of…
Will Wilkinson: They say they do. This is actually an interesting complication. I think there’s a lot of love for monopoly.
Steve Teles: Not about their own business.
Will Wilkinson: Yeah, no, but that’s what I’m saying. Like kind of tech people are a little like Republicans in the sense that you can get a working class Republican who doesn’t want to tax rich people a lot because they imagine that one day they’ll be a rich person, right?
Steve Teles: Right.
Will Wilkinson: And similarly with some tech people, every single business model is about basically capturing some kind of like patent monopoly or some sort of network effect monopoly. And so the whole industry, the whole sector is very pro monopoly, anti-competition. They just don’t see themselves that way.
Steve Teles: Right. So this is where again, under regulation and this is where again I think when you change the agenda, one… Again, if you think about going all the way back to your DW-Nominate polarization thing, right. That is an institutional equilibrium generated by a particular construction of the agenda.
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Teles: Right. And one of the things that disrupts polarization is when you get a disruption in the agenda, right. The thing we’re talking about, right. So right now the agenda is very organized around the things that differentiate the parties, right. Whereas antitrust, as we know, and the regulation of the tech monopolies has very weird coalitions, right? Where you get people on the far left are very enthusiastic about antitrust and you’re sort of Josh Hawley, Republican populists, who don’t like it because they think all those tech platforms are all run by lefties who want to put them into camps. But the more that’s the thing we’re talking about, the more that those parts of each party are going to insist on ways to organize politics that allow them to cooperate.
Will Wilkinson: Right.
Steve Teles: And again, that goes back to the point that the way we govern is partially a function of what it is that people want to be talking about. What is it they want to be governing on and what are the coalitions look like? And so the market liberals, right, that you talk about, they’re the natural constituency for tech, right? For a lot of those people, but those people also they want to preserve their platform monopoly and also, which again is part of the business model of all those, right. And they’re willing to accept a fair amount of redistribution to allow that to happen. That’s the way I think about it.
Will Wilkinson: That’s a great issue where you see the factions breaking down, we have this sudden interest on the right, for like antitrust suits applied against large tech companies for various reasons of their own. But that will is there in part of the Republican Party to go after some of the big platforms and that aligns them with some of the progressive left who’s on fire about market concentration and stuff like that. And so if neither of those groups can get what they want within their own party, then they start really strongly demanding that you got to let me vote with these people, because I care about this issue. I want to just step back just a second, because not everybody’s a political scientist or a political scientist groupie like me. We’re talking a lot about the agenda and things like policy demanders and it’s I think a little opaque to some folks.
And part of the reason is that political reporting and the media doesn’t get very far under the surface to see the extent to which internal politics is just about what legislation gets put on the schedule. What is allowed to go into committee? What is allowed to come out of committee? What gets to the floor and voted on? That’s the agenda. And there’s a real constraint there. There’s only so much time. There’s only so much space if there’s a competition for relative priority. So if somebody else’s issue gets higher priority than yours, it becomes more less likely that you and the people backing you are going to get what you want. And if you can’t get your issues on the agenda, nothing happens for you. There’s like 10 slots in a legislative session. And there’s this fight to get your issue in there. And the question is who controls that process? And right now party leadership has just got a lock, in both parties on deciding what gets in there.
Steve Teles: And the important point is one, right, party leaders, for their own organizational reason want the agenda to be dominated by the things that their party members all agree on.
Will Wilkinson: Yes.
Steve Teles: Right. And that they disagree with the other side, right? Because they want to minimize internal conflict. But again, this is where all these things are like Russian dolls that are all embedded in inside one another, right? That in some material ways also affects who runs for Congress, right?
Will Wilkinson: Yes.
Steve Teles: Because if you’re comfortable with that structure of the agenda, then you’re going to run for Congress, right? If you’re comfortable with the fact that your job is mainly going to be roll call, Ken Fodder for traditional party issues and then you’re going to spend the rest of your time going on Fox News, attacking Democrats for wanting to put you in a gulag, right. You’re going to run and you’re going to be happy in Congress, right. If what you want to do is be entrepreneurial and put together a strange bedfellows coalitions and do that kind of work, right? Then you’re probably not going to want to run for Congress, right. And we know, I know of members of Congress now who are thinking about doing other kinds of jobs because they’ve done this one and they think it sucks, right. But in another one, in a more factually divided Congress with a more open agenda, which again would also be more chaotic, right?
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Teles: One of the reasons why we used to have so much pork barrel spending is you needed that in order to put together coalitions where you couldn’t just piggyback on party discipline, right. You had to put those together one by one, both on the basis of the people’s preferences and on the basis of distributive benefits, right.
Will Wilkinson: Like right now in the Republican Party, it’s sort of like leadership can say, “This is what’s coming up on the floor and this is how you’re going to vote.” And you’re like, “I don’t want to vote like that.” And they’re like, “Well, then the Republican National Committee is not going to give you any money for your next race. Sorry.” And then you go, “Okay, shit I’ll vote for it.” They don’t have to offer that person anything. They have a credible threat of harming their prospects. And so they have to go along.
Steve Teles: The argument here, I think is partially that once you start going in this other direction, that there are path dependent dynamics involved in that, right. Again, this is where all of this argument is about a first move that then creates sort of reactions among the other players in the system.
Will Wilkinson: Yeah, equilibria tend to be self-reinforcing that’s what makes it an equilibria. That’s why it’s stable.
Steve Teles: Right.
Will Wilkinson: When they break down, all of those self-reinforcing dynamics start to just fall apart and then get a self-reinforcing set of dynamics that shifts you into the other equilibrium, which then locks it in place.
Steve Teles: And this, I think is the problem in part that I have with some of the people who think about polarization, including, I’m a huge fan of Ezra Klein, as I say, I used to know him when he was a boy chick. But there is a very powerfully path dependent dynamic in the way that he thinks about polarization. I think he really thinks that this has incredibly deep foundations. That really mean that this is the future, right. That we’re going to, in some sense, only have more and then therefore his answer is we need to allow parties to govern, right. And we need to allow. And that’s the answer. Whereas I actually think this particular dynamic is much more unstable.
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Teles: And it’s a function of what we’re talking about. And the fact that so much of the agenda is about the social issues, the deeply cultural issues that he thinks are the real foundation of polarization is itself an institutionally generated equilibrium that could be otherwise and is dependent upon highly homogenous parties. That one, right, once some of these things start breaking down, as you suggested, they start creating breaks in other parts of the system. And this is where, again, the kind of people who run, right, once you get other people running because they think that they can actually do entrepreneurial, cross-party, strange bedfellows coalitions, once they’re in, they’re going to start demanding even more permissive rules to do that kind of thing, right?
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Teles: Once you have more permissive rules, that’s going to affect the decision-making of the people who at the margin who are deciding whether to run or not. And that’s another one of these path dependent dynamics in the other direction. Now, some of the… Again, this is again, contingent on organization outside of Congress, right? That as these factions don’t just exist inside the body, they exist most profoundly outside, right? That is whether or not you have people organizing horizontally, connecting to one another, creating money, creating ideas, creating institutions that then reverberate into the institutions and change the way that institutions operate.
Will Wilkinson: I wanted to reinforce that point, before you were talking about voters aren’t the primary agents or even politicians aren’t the primary agents in politics. You’re a social movements guy, right? It’s about organized groups. It’s about the money that is there to get them together, to help them grow, to give them heft. That’s why at the beginning, we were talking about like AEI, about to go under, you know about those things because the funding sources for things like think tanks are ultimately at some level what moves politics.
Steve Teles: Well, they moved part of it, right. Again, a political system is a big-
Will Wilkinson: There’s a huge number of these things, but that’s one of the pieces of organization that makes a difference within a party coalition.
Steve Teles: -Right. And then again, there are different kinds of resources in politics that are more or less sensitive to that. I mean, so I’ve actually been thinking a lot about Mike Lynn’s recent work who’s somebody I’ve been friends with for a long time. And one of the things he says is a sort of characteristic feature of this period in American politics is we do have this very large, but pretty much unorganized white working class. Everyone talks about the white working class. But the interesting thing is they’re not corporately organized, right. Unlike a lot of the other factions that we’ve talked about or the other-
Will Wilkinson: Not since unions-
Steve Teles: -Sort of political actors, right.
Will Wilkinson: -[inaudible 01:02:18].
Steve Teles: Right. And so there are very important constituency for what I think of as the sort of populist nationalists, Tom Cottony faction of the Republican Party and yet they’re an organized part of it, right. And so one of the things I think is interesting is when you look at the people who think they’re going to be the intellectual architects of that populous nationalist faction, like the people around American Compass, right. They’ve written a bunch of really interesting things, arguing that we need more of some kind of labor organization, now it’s always mysterious what that is. But they clearly think that you need organized white working class people. Now, again, sometimes they’re vague about how white they are. And I think that’s fair. I think there’s some of them who genuinely think that their faction can only work if it actually is a class faction that cuts across race.
But in any case, I think they have seen that they can’t really have a durable, populist nationalist faction without some way of actually organizing this sort of working class, especially white working class in some ways to sort of counterweight the other organized parts of the Republican Party, including, the sort of low road business actors who are likely to be the dominant actors in [inaudible 01:03:37].
Will Wilkinson: I think that group is difficult to organize. There’s a reason why Trump was able to do it. He’s a celebrity, he’s funny, people will tune in, but this is a really low engagement group of voters in general. They don’t pay a lot…
Steve Teles: He didn’t organize them, right?
Will Wilkinson: He didn’t organize them but he got them to pay attention and to coalesce around him. There is no organization. And I hadn’t thought of it until you mentioned this, but it sounds kind of nutty, but in a way, maybe that’s kind of what QAnon is. In a weird way, if you’re going to have these people operating as a block, you need some way to get them all on the same page. Now that’s not actually a way of coordinating low engagement people because everybody who’s into that are way too online. That’s why they know all this conspiracy theory stuff. But you have to have some effort to get everybody on the same page. And it’s not clear that there are issues that move the white working class group. And to say that working class is largely to say with no or little college. That’s kind of the big break in the class structure in the economy.
Steve Teles: But also, as you know, I mean they’re decreasingly engaged in religious practice, right? That’s one of the characteristic features. This is where I think conservatives [crosstalk 01:05:00].
Will Wilkinson: The organization is breaking down on a lot of levels.
Steve Teles: Right. That is they decreasingly have any form of social capital, whether it’s connection to labor unions, to churches, to other kinds of structures. And that’s partially a function of some of the things you’ve written about, about geographic sorting that a lot of the people who would have been leaders of those forms of social capital are themselves leaching out.
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Teles: Right. And when you think about those left behind communities…
Will Wilkinson: I would be an excellent mayor for Marshalltown, Iowa.
Steve Teles: Right.
Will Wilkinson: But I didn’t stay there and we have a lot of that all over the place.
Steve Teles: Right. But I do think, again, it’s an interesting tell that at least the intellectuals for this party, the Republican Party have thought about this, right. Which is one why they talk about that constituency in very social capital terms.
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Teles: Because I think they’re aware that there are very severe problems of trying to have a party whose primary constituency is so unorganized, really atomized is I think is the real, right, the way to think about it. And that’s very unstable in part because you have to ramp up the kind of effective cultural appeal to them in the absence of having some sort of regular organization to build off, right. Especially organization that connects people horizontally, right? All of the things you’re talking about.
Will Wilkinson: If they’re not showing up at church, if they’re not showing up at the Union Hall, what network is information going to travel through, right. The fact that they share demographic characteristics, isn’t going to ultimately bind them together as a political agent.
Steve Teles: Right. And again, I think there’s a good argument that, we will have a Republican Party that’s going to be divided between one faction that’s also going to be a weird combination, that populist nationalist faction, because it’s going to include, in what I think of as the more low road parts of the business community and the employers who are the employers of precisely those working class people you’re talking about, right. Who are in more contingent, low wage, low benefit kind of parts of the economy. So that’s weird in and of itself. But the business part of that is going to be organized and the worker part will not. Right. Which is why, again, all the people who are the intellectuals for that side have more of an idea that they’re actually increasingly talking about corporatism.
Will Wilkinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Teles: Right. Now, that’s partially because they interestingly have learned a lot from Mike Lynn, who’s a big fan of corporatism. And I think that’s what they envision the economics of their coalition being, right. It’s going to be more protectionist, more corporatist, but it’s going to organize their working class in a way they’re not, in a way that the liberal conservative faction in the Republican Party are also probably going to be uncomfortable. So again, which is why there could be weird coalitions between the populous nationalist faction and the left on some of these labor organization things too.
Will Wilkinson: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know why I thought of this, but just thinking about Lynn’s corporatism, I thought about kind of Chinese corporations and how the party keeps workers organized through corporations, right? So every morning all the workers at a steel plant will do calisthenics together and say the corporate motto in unison, which will say something nice about the Chinese Communist Party. So there’s this organization at the economic level to keep the working class politically unified behind the power structure. It’s not like there’s party competition, but still it matters. And I think it’s funny to imagine, when I worked at Walmart back in the mid nineties, it was funny. We did have to say some Walmart motto, while hands on our heart looking at a picture of Sam Walton or something. But those structures are there. But if those became politicized and energized, that would do something.
Steve Teles: I think there’s two possible futures there. Right? One is what you described, which is there are two different ways you can talk about what you mean by corporatism, right? One is sort of domination by corporations. As you can imagine, corporations becoming a much more focal basis for social organization and social control of the way you just described. But classically what I mean what sort of European corporate is and where you have large centrally organized firms and large centrally organized structures of labor that negotiate around regulation. They negotiate around firm structure. And I think that increasingly is the vision of that sort of countervailing power is the vision of that, at least the intellectuals of that part of the Republican Party. And that’s where, again, that’s in a very weird relationship with the more free market.
Will Wilkinson: But that requires a very high level of unionization.
Steve Teles: Right. Of some kind of labor organization, and this is where you can see-.
Will Wilkinson: [inaudible 01:10:05] labor organization. But-
Steve Teles: -The [inaudible 01:10:06].
Will Wilkinson: -You need things like codetermination. One of the reasons why some of those economies are so low regulation in sort of statutory terms is that all of those things like worker safety, minimum wages, benefits, they don’t need to be dealt with politically because the political system gives enough power to the labor organizations that the corporations have to include them in governance. And so the deals that happen are between management and the union. And that’s where the kind of like labor regulation and workplace regulation and all that happens. So if you look on the books, you won’t find a lot of regulation in Sweden or Denmark. But it’s not that the companies can do whatever they want because they’re bound by these very strong agreements with their own workers who collectively wield a lot of political power.
Steve Teles: This is again, one of the reasons why I think there’s a lot of latent instability in the system we have now, and why I’m less on the side of people who think that the future’s going to be like the present. Because I think, all those whether it’s like economic models, political models, all of it is susceptible to switching to a very different equilibrium. And the purpose of the paper was to sort of imagine what that was like. It’s an exercise in futurism. And futurism is always a difficult thing because the goddamn future just won’t stay stable for you.
Will Wilkinson: You can end up looking like Nostradamus or a total idiot.
Steve Teles: Or a total idiot. And we’ll see soon enough which way that’ll be.
Will Wilkinson: Well, thanks for taking the time Steve, I could talk to you for another hour about this. It’s so full of insight, and I hope we have the opportunity to see the old equilibria start to break down. I think a lot of people would like stability. But that might not really be in the cards. Even if we get rid of the bad man, there’s a lot of ferments that’s in the system. There’s a lot of… It’s being held together by masking tape and pieces of bubble gum. And those equilibria are just going to start to fall apart. And once they fall apart, it’s a dynamic process that is fundamentally unpredictable. You don’t know where it’s going to land. All you can do is try to push it in one direction or the other. And maybe it ends up in the neighborhood of what you’re hoping for. But there’s not a lot you can do to control it once the cascade starts. I’m hoping it happens because we need a lot of big changes, but hopefully it works out [inaudible 01:12:46].
Steve Teles: Right. I think the next time we should actually talk a little bit about that question about where we want things to go. Because again, part of the nature of any system that’s in under some degree of instability is even if you agree about where you want to go, you’re not entirely sure about any move you make in the system, and whether it’s going to get you closer or further away from that. And so some of I think of the disagreements that people have, including people like us, who I think on some things are actually quite similar about our underlying preferences, are different because we have different theories about those very complex causal chains that get you to the world that you want to get to and what will or won’t get you there.
Will Wilkinson: Yeah, the world is hard to understand and not agreeing and talking it through is how you get a little bit closer. So thanks for coming on Steve. I really appreciate it. And I hope the welfare of your children didn’t suffer from the time you sacrificed.
Steve Teles: Thanks for having me Will.
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