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Monday, May 1, 2006

Book Review: The New New Left: How American Politics Works Today, Steven Malanga

The New New Left: How American Politics Works Today

by Steven Malanga

Ivan R. Dee • 2005 • 147 pages • $22.50

Reviewed by George C. Leef

Murray Rothbard liked to argue that our understanding of politics would be improved if we would categorize people as either tax payers or tax consumers. The latter always desire political action to make their positions more secure and lucrative. Indeed, the increasing politicization of the United States has proceeded hand in hand with the rising number of tax consumers. Tax payers, alas, may fail to see that oppo­sition to government expansion is in their interest. Many of them are in the thrall of statist myths and don’t under­stand that their pockets are being picked. Some even applaud.

To all members of the tax-paying class, I recommend Steven Malanga’s book The New New Left. Malanga, a New York-based journalist affiliated with the Manhattan Institute, has dug deep into the dung heap of modern politics to show how various interest groups succeed in getting what they want at the expense of others. Malan­ga’s exposé is certain to provoke screams of protest from the tax consumers because he’s so good at demolishing their intellectual pretensions.

Government-employee unions are one of the book’s main targets. Malanga writes, “Today, public unions don’t merely use their power to win contract concessions for their members. They help elect sympathetic legislators and defeat proponents of smaller government; they lobby for higher taxes, especially on the rich and on businesses; and they oppose legislative efforts, such as privatization initiatives, aimed at making government smaller and more efficient.” That’s true not only in union-dominated cities like New York, but also in many others. A lamprey attaching itself to a fish is the image that comes to mind.

Those unions have formed an alliance with leftist politicians in which the politicians can count on union support (money and manpower) and in return they pro­mote the unions’ desire for expanded government. A prime example Malanga shows is the health-care indus­try, where growing governmental involvement has been a gold mine for union treasuries.

Malanga also takes on the numerous activist organi­zations on the new new left (NNL). One of the most virulent is ACORN (Association for Community Reform Now), which pushes relentlessly for socialistic nostrums such as “living wage” laws. Those laws mandate that businesses must either pay their workers an hourly wage that’s supposed to be the least someone could live on, or else face punitive taxes. It’s just a super-minimum wage. ACORN and its backers (including the Ford Foundation) try to deny that “living wage” laws have any disemployment effects, but it’s hard to suppress the truth. Malanga notes that after Detroit adopted its ordi­nance, the Salvation Army had to lay off some of its workers because it couldn’t afford to keep them all on the payroll. In response, ACORN accused the Salvation Army of “propagating a Big Lie.”

Undoubtedly, the Number One Enemy of the NNL is Wal-Mart. The company resists unionization with all legal means. It even chose to shut down a store in Cana­da, where a union had been certified, rather than bow to collective bargaining. For its stance, the firm receives a steady torrent of invective from Big Labor and its activist allies. They rant, for example, about the low percentage of Wal-Mart employees (compared with other large firms) who have health insurance as a part of their com­pensation package. Malanga points out an inconvenient fact for the crusaders: many Wal-Mart workers have health-insurance coverage elsewhere, through a pension plan or other family members. No one who finds the compensation at Wal-Mart inadequate has to work there, but many people obviously think it’s their best option. Only in a hyper-politicized world would anyone regard the NNL activists who seek to meddle with mutually beneficial exchange as heroes.

In another essay, Malanga takes aim at the faddish notions of Professor Richard Florida. Florida has become an intellectual guru to many for his theories on how to make cities vibrant, growing places. His idea is that if cities attract “creative people,” they will thrive. So what flowers will lure these wonderful bees? Florida says that the key is for a city to have the amenities that such people supposedly want for their upscale lifestyle: fine arts, recreation, green spaces, and so on. Therefore, cities should throw plenty of money into performing-arts centers, bicycle paths, parks, and more. Malanga douses Florida’s dreamy visions in cold water by demonstrating that those amenities are neither necessary nor sufficient for a vibrant, growing city. It’s just another excuse for political elites to spend taxpayer money.

This book is a timely attack on some of America’s most destructive political phenomena.

George Leef ([email protected]) is book review editor of The Freeman.

  • George Leef is the former book review editor of The Freeman. He is director of research at the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.