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Can the Left be Saved From Itself?

Ruy Texeira

Monday, June 12, 2023

Chris Keefer  0:00  

Welcome back to decouple. Today I'm joined by Rui to Sherif, who is an American political scientist and commentator, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of six books, focusing largely on electoral demographics. But I'm sure a number of other themes. Really, I've been chasing you for a while. Send a few emails through your website. That's always a bit of a crapshoot. But finally, you appeared on on the power hungry podcast with my good friend Robert Bryce. And he made the introduction. So it's wonderful to be acquainted. And great to to meet you virtually like this. Welcome to decouple.


Ruy Texeira  0:34  

Thank you for having me, Chris. And I'm delighted to be here. I'm a big fan of what you've been up to and of your podcast.


Chris Keefer  0:40  

I appreciate that. I appreciate that. So Roy, I initially came across your work. You published an article in 2020, forgetting what publication but it was called The Five Deadly Sins of the left. And, you know, that was actually just when I started this podcast, and the podcast itself, I mean, I come from a pretty, pretty solidly a radical left background to be quite honest. And, you know, I was on my first picket line at the tender age of 11, or 12, getting almost run over by, by some scab labor, you know, I just come from a bit of a lefty family, very much grew up in a bit of a hippie town here in southern Ontario. And, you know, I think, at the root of this podcast experience, and my sort of exploration or re exploration of my politics was this idea that you can have the correct politics, maybe that sort of left wing platform, and we'll talk about maybe what that is, because it's so much has changed from sort of the old left to the new left. And I'm eager to deep dive that with you, but you could have your wish list of progressive left wing politics. But you could have politicians who just do not have an understanding of the built world who deploy the wrong technological solutions and completely screw up things like an energy transition. And I think that's kind of what I'm starting to see. So that really caused me to question some of my, my political beliefs. And although I experienced some cognitive dissonance, reading that article, initially, I think it was a real clarion call for the left to potentially find itself and become relevant again, whether or not that is happening, or has a hope of happening, maybe we'll explore a bit today. So, you know, I think central to what I've been thinking about recently, in order to try and explain the lack of engineering discipline on the left, and I made, you know, a little five line tweet about this, but was this this idea that the left has become completely alienated from production from the built world, as a result from shifting its loyalties and base from labor to the student Vanguard, potentially moving into academia. But again, I am no expert in this field, and excited to have a bonafide political scientist on to help me understand this further. So what motivated you to write the five Deadly Sins article and we'll break it down a little bit as maybe the architecture and structure of this interview?


Ruy Texeira  3:08  

Well, what motivated me to write it, I suppose, is kind of connects to what you were alluding to about your background, you were a radical leftist. And you sort of, you know, we definitely were oriented toward the working class and toward the disadvantaged, and toward what could help lift people up and perhaps currently, existing capitalist society wasn't doing such a great job. And we could do a lot better. And that's certainly my background as someone coming out of the radical left. I was actually, I don't know about you, Chris. But I was actually a member of a Marxist Leninist organization for a while when I was a youth. So I, I, you know, I was talking to talk and walking the walk back in the day. So, you know, I evolved over time to have much more pragmatic politics. Revolution wasn't coming. And I became, but I still think of today, class oriented social democrat. And, you know, I have observed over time, that the version of the left we have in the Democratic Party, but I think this is true across the western world, the parties of the left to become increasingly oriented away from class and toward a series of other concerns that are socio cultural identitarian in nature, and among which I would include climate at this point, and we'll probably talk about that, and that the views and preferences of the liberal college educated, who have increasingly migrated into the party, so the left with their influence with their money, with their preferences, have, in a sense taken over the brand of the left and most advanced countries, and that's certainly the case for the Democratic Party in the United States. It's not like they don't do anything that has to do with helping the disadvantaged but But in terms of the salience the commitments they have and the salience those commitments have to them, and the way it influences the party brand, and priorities. I mean, there's an enormous influence a big change. I mean, you can see it, you know, sort of in an ever ascending arc from the 90s through today. And of course, we had the turbocharged George Floyd summer in 2020, that really brought a lot of this to the head. And it was about that time a little after that, I guess, I wrote my five Deadly Sins of the left piece for the American compass, which is very interesting. American heterodox center right group. And I just, you know, I just felt they had to speak out. I mean, this is this, this is what I signed up for, you know, I mean, I believe in helping, you know, the people in the work working and middle class. And I think the, what's always been good about social democrats is they believe the government has a role to play in dealing with those inequalities and sort of driving an economic model that could, you know, potentially benefit, largest number of people, and the government has a big role to play on that. If it does, what if it sort of has reasonably efficient and effective plans, and that's what it should concentrate on. And in terms of social issues, I mean, I think it's been clear, the left has always been for antidiscrimination tolerance. And in that sense, promoting diversity, but that, to put identitarian concerns, first and foremost, in the priorities, the left was a big mistake, and was taking it away from a lot of the things that needed to stand for and to accomplish to be Universalist to promote economic growth, to promote, you know, technical progress to promote pricing, you know, prosperity for everybody, right? I mean, what people really want is to be prosperous, they don't want to like, you know, signal their commitment to social justice, or pat themselves on the back about how terrific they are in moral terms, what most that the median voter wants, in the US and Canada and other places is a better life. And when the left loses sight of its of its commitment, to give the maximum number of people a better life, a prosperous life, to as it were enrich themselves, I think it loses its way, and its priorities become skewed, and its political effectiveness is undermined. And we get some pretty bad outcomes.


Chris Keefer  7:33  

I mean, it's curious that this article was published in the American Campus, I think, I'm not as familiar with US institutions, and media. But it seems like some of the most interesting conversations are happening in these potentially center Ryan or there's more heterodox spaces as you describe them. We'll go through again, in more detail, those five deadly sins, but probably, I think you could add a sixth one, which just has to do with sort of cloistered discourse on the left these days, the canceled culture, which is so prevalent, the, you know, this idea of sort of only reading within the strict canon of the left, you know, I imagine some people would say, Well, I'm not even going to read that article in American compass, because it's a right wing, you know, outlet which has platform to x, y, and Zed person, therefore, you know, we must strike everything that's ever been written from that from even consideration. So, I mean, do you agree that that's, that's potentially a sixth sin, or just just tell me a little bit about your assessment of the left's ability to even kind of self analyze, given some of the constraints that it puts on on discourse?


Ruy Texeira  8:36  

Yeah. And I refer to this as using a phrase that became popular in the early 2000s, on the American left to talk about the right. They talked about epistemic closure on the right. Well, I think we now have the analogous phenomenon on the left epistemic closure in the left, where you can only think and talk about an have a discourse concerning a pretty narrow range of acceptable opinions and acceptable reference and acceptable sources, right. And if you go outside of those bounds, you are like, playing for the other team. And, you know, what you are saying and alluding to must be completely wrong, false or, at worst? You know, you're basically a tool of the fascist, I mean, right. So this is this is really quite extraordinary. The left historically has stood for the widest possible remit in terms of trying to understand the way the world works, and it has a pretty absolutist commitment to free speech, and was not typically in the business unless you're a Stalinist, I suppose, of policing discourse that vigorously but it's clearly it's happened today. And that's one thing that drove me out of the conventional left in the United States. I worked for the Center for American Progress for many years, and that's the sort of biggest center left Democratic Party oriented Think Tank And over time, I realized that as much as I would try to make arguments about how you should pay more attention to what the median working class voter thinks, the fact that white working class voters hate the Democratic Party is a real problem. You know, we should keep first and foremost, the standard left commitments of, you know, economic progress and uplift. And we shouldn't get too involved in these identitarian concerns, especially since this is a good way of alienating working class voters. And even some of the things that people are now talking about, are like, basically not good ideas on any measure, you know, like the energy trends, you know, really rapid transition toward renewables is probably not a good idea. Having surgery and medications available for transgender kids is probably not a good idea. Being lacks on crime is probably not a good idea. Having open borders, on the southern border is probably not a good idea. Lots of things are not good ideas. But it became this gets back to the epistemic closure point. If you if you reach a point where you can't talk about these issues and raise critical points, without essentially being categorized as being on the right, a tool of the right, then it's hard to make progress on these issues. It's hard to form a coherent political and policy strategy when your range of acceptable discourse is so narrow. So I think that's a huge problem. Every one of the deadly sins that you that identified in the article and you read about are essentially, the sort of, there's an overarching problem that drives those deadly sins, to some extent, and enhance this, this epistemic closure is this failure to deal with underlying realities and be able to confront them as they are and look at a wide range of sources data to evaluate that. And, you know, critically and I've written about this, you have to evaluate arguments on the basis of logic and evidence, once you get outside of that protocol. nothing but bad things happen. And that's clearly what's happened with a good chunk of the laugh. Because if your first way of evaluating an argument is the descriptive characteristics of the argue, or, or, you know, what is what was the source of what you referred to? Was it one of the good people, or what are the bad people? This takes you out of the realm of logic and evidence and into, you know, essentially policing people's people's views, and keeping them sort of down on the farm within that, that epistemic closure. So, yes, I totally agree that this is an overarching the, over the over it kind of the Uber sin of the left, that in some ways drives all the others.


Chris Keefer  12:49  

Right. And in the identity politics section of your essay, you talk a little bit about, you know, when I experienced this, you know, being university educated and left wing university, you know, I guess in linguistics, they call it code switching, like the ability to speak, you know, for lack of a better term, maybe vocalese. And you know, how alienating that is to non college educated folks, who I mean, I haven't used the word folks there, which is sort of a bit of code,


Ruy Texeira  13:15  

especially next risk.


Chris Keefer  13:20  

But you know, the ways the ways in which ways in which that alienates you know, the other thing that strikes me as well, just about the discourse is because of this tendency now towards D, platforming and not actually engaging in debate and rhetoric. I mean, I recently prepared for a public debate and, and it was fascinating, just just zooming out and studying the purpose of, of, you know, studying rhetoric, learning how to form arguments, learning how to listen to other arguments, deconstructing them. That skill set I feel is really, really falling apart, particularly on campuses, and amongst maybe, you know, the younger elements of of the left. But that commentary aside, I feel like we've sort of touched on the identity politics side of it. The second deadly sin is that of retro socialism, can you can you sum that up for us? Yeah, retro


Ruy Texeira  14:06  

socialism, as I think of it and was arguing about, there's not so much you must be differentiated from social democracy, which is the idea that parties to the left should regulate, the market economy should promote the safety net should promote prosperity for all, and that there's, you know, untrammeled, capitalism is not going to work very well. So we do need to have, you know, approach the political economy in a way that does have a strong role for government that does have a role for everything from industrial policy to you know, health care, socialized health care, these are all good things, but retro socialism kind of gets into the, the idea that the real solution, comrade, to the problems of our capitalist society, you know, this time This dystopian hellhole we call America is to completely get rid of the market, socialize everything. And basically implement an economic system where decisions are no longer sort of in control the market. We d commodify. Everything. I mean, basically, it's a species of utopianism, that goes back, you know, many, many, many years in the sort of left of center movements, there's always been debates between utopians and Marx, you know, so hardcore Marxist and social democrats are more practically oriented people who actually don't think you can have anything remotely like a centrally planned economy. And remotely, you can't sort of audit that sort of, by some magic, get rid of the market system and replace it with some elaborate system of workers control and social expropriation. So the extent to which democratic socialists become our sort of promoting that model, they actually are, basically takes them away from having a more pragmatic, realistic approach to economic policy toward reaching working class voters and convincing them doing such and such would actually be a good idea and would work. Because essentially, you're posing as as your reform, quote, unquote, basically, fundamental, fundamentally transforming the system into something completely and radically different, which, here's a little secret, Chris, people aren't really interested in that, you know, they'd actually don't want a radical transformation of the system, they want their lives to be better. And they want political parties and government to play a role in making that happened. But they are not at all interested in a rapid transformation of the economic system into something completely different. And the extent to which people on the left become associated with that is a bad thing. And I think the Democrats have become more associated with that. They were at least for a number of years, because of the rise of the Democratic socialists and other left wing activists within the Democratic Party, because many of these people do, in fact, subscribe to not only a radical transformation of the system, but their commitment to a radical transformation of this system, pushes them in the direction of being committed to unrealistic policy goals, which makes it makes it hard to sell sort of a more pragmatic left program to people.


Chris Keefer  17:35  

It was interesting, you know, Bernie Sanders, who I think if you zoom out and look at him from a global context is, you know, basically a Scandinavian or European social democrat, labeling himself as a Democratic socialist, which, given you know, the Cold War basis, by which a lot of you know, older Americans perhaps see the world perhaps isn't the best way to describe oneself. If you're trying to create like a broad tent electoral coalition, it struck me as a little bit, a little bit puzzling. But But this idea of of the the need for a radical transformation, I mean, according to I guess, and I'm going out on a limb here in terms of my actual knowledge base, but the sort of historical determinism of Marxism, which is basically saying that the contradictions of capitalism are inevitably going to lead to this socialist transformation, that sort of failed to materialize as the West out competed the Soviet Union. And as there was a compromise, I guess, between capital and labor, which raised the the living standards of the middle class, and I guess resulted in this labor aristocracy, which I think the new left became quite frustrated with, this transformation was not occurring, because hey, things are pretty great. I've got two cars in the driveway, I've got a house over a roof over my head, and I own it, I can send my kids to college. Those are those are pretty good times in the post war period. And is this at the point is this the point at which we start to move the left towards more of the environmental movement and a new form of sort of catastrophism, which is going to motivate this inevitable transformation? As you know, we reached the limits to growth and things like that, do you read that in that light? Because I'm, I'm curious, there's certainly a tension between labor and, and the environmental movement, but the kind of new left or the left elite or the you know, the elites of the Democratic Party are quite embedded within the environmental movement. And I'm curious, maybe we're veering slightly off the five Deadly Sins here. But I think this is worthwhile. I'm curious, your understanding of this kind of symbiotic relationship between the left a leader the new left and environmental movement?


Ruy Texeira  19:33  

Yeah, I think that's a pretty good point. And an interesting way of looking at I mean, if you look at the broad history of Marxism and the left, I mean, the original view of Marx was that the contradictions of capitalism were going to evidently produce the immiseration of the proletariat and unresolvable crises that would inevitably, or likely lead to the introduction of socialism as a solution to this country. addictions. Now, when Marx was writing in capital, it was ironically at the time when capitalism was finally starting to lift, lift and lift living standards and actually produce a better life for the working class. And as a result, the socialist parties that grew up around the ideas of Marx frequently, sort of found themselves veering toward reformism to try to take advantage of the fact that things were actually getting better for the working class. And there was a certain amount of room to move in an increasingly democratic capitalist societies. So And over time, you know, this really dominated the left with a little bit of a detour and loosely is the Western left into communism. Communism took root and not advanced societies became essentially a route to, you know, force modernization. But that idea that capitalism had these innate contradictions that would lead to a vast transformation of the system and to something totally groovy. I do think sort of lost its compelling logic as, as something based on, you know, economic contradictions per se. I mean, you could still see it in the way a lot of people on the left dealt with the slowdown in economic growth and rising inequality after the 70s. They kind of made it into a sort of immiseration of the proletariat redox, which actually wasn't true there. There had been a slowdown in growth and family income and increase in inequality. It's etc. But it was actually not the case that people were being immiseration. It was just, they weren't going up at the rate they used to. And there are all kinds of other problems that have evolved in in these societies. But it really wasn't. We weren't going back to the England of the 1840s. That wasn't happening. But I think what has taken its place, and this is what you're getting at is that people when people think about the contradictions of capitalism today, and how it might midwife a completely different system, they're not thinking about the miseration of the proletariat, they're thinking about the way capitalism and growth are ruining the planet and will produce an inevitable catastrophe that will may indeed, extinguished Chris, the human race as a race. I mean, you know, this is really, the conceit Naomi Klein, I think, wrote a book, I forget its name, but the space changes everything. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, this changes everything. So I mean, so she's, you know, she's clearly, you know, quite leftist. And I'm sure he's read remarks. But I think this is the this is the current stance of a lot of people on the left, it's not so much that the proletariat will be driven to ruin, it says the planet will be driven to ruin. And the only way to stop this comrades is for us to radically transform capitalism into sort of eco socialism. And that will allow us to live live in peace and harmony,


Chris Keefer  22:59  

and essentially impose austerity. You know, we had Emmett Penney on recently to talk about the Andrea's mom inspired movie, how to blow up a pipeline. But Andreas mom talks about the ideal political system to overcome the climate crisis being war, communism, referencing that rather dark period, right after the Russian Revolution, where there was extreme austerity and rationing. You know, it's it's forget all


Ruy Texeira  23:24  

the people that were killed by the checkout too. So hopefully, that will be a part of Mr. His work on


Chris Keefer  23:29  

well, there needs to be a great cleansing of any kind of opposition to this program. Yes. You know, it's, yeah, it's dark. But I mean, this is certainly, you know, I guess, in a more organic way, weaving us through these other themes of growth, phobia, and, and techno pessimism and catastrophism. But yeah, let's let's keep tugging on that thread of the left's marriage to the modern environmental movement and how that is putting them at odds with labor. You know, it's interesting, some of my comrades in the nuclear advocacy world, you know, we're pulling up some old pictures around the construction of Indian Point where there were scuffles between environmentalists and, you know, workers involved in the construction of that plant. I think that was back in the 70s or 80s. But but that carries on, certainly in the struggle to save the buyer and address the nuclear plants. In Illinois, there was that same kind of dynamic at play between the environmental movement trying to shutter these plants and labor being at least friendly to the idea of of nuclear, obviously, quite job rich and good quality jobs. So yeah, if we can explore a little bit more that that entanglement of of the new left with the environmental movement, I guess, you know, whether the environmental movement has has infected that new left and turn it away from its ideas, or just how you see that,


Ruy Texeira  24:48  

actually, Chris, I wrote, started an epic three part series on this question for the liberal Patriot called a bit viral environmentalism to climate catastrophism democratic story, which has now been issued as an AI working paper, you know, nicely edited and all that jazz with CITES. So, it's really interesting, I think how the environmental movement became transmuted into, you know, a catastrophe, this movement essentially. But one thing that's interesting about that is the modern environmental movement, to some extent, owes its initial inspiration and burst of activity to actually fairly catastrophist thinking. If you look at William vote who wrote the road to survival in 1947, he was part of a school of people who were moving the American conservation movement, which was really about setting aside parts of nature. So they wouldn't be despoiled by the market system into a much more aggressive and you know, sharp edge kind of movement, I mean, vote basically bought, based on his experiences that the nature of the market system and the way the plan that was being developed, would inevitably lead to catastrophe was just ruining everything. chemicals were getting into everything, eco ecological webs are being destroyed, the carrying capacity of the planet was being challenged. And you can really see how a lot of his ideas seeped into the early environmental movement. And in fact, vote was a friend and one of the people who inspired Rachel Carson's seminal book, Silent Spring, which is really the birth of the modern environmental movement in the United States. Now, if you actually read silence, spraying, I mean, it's a pretty catastrophist book in and of itself. I mean, it was basically saying chemicals were getting into everything DDT was going to kill us all. Our bodily fluids were being polluted by these chemicals. And eventually, in my mind, it's interesting,


Chris Keefer  27:02  

Rich. Interestingly, Rachel, Rachel Carson's bodily fluids were being polluted by chemicals. She was getting chemotherapy for breast cancer. Wow. Interesting little anecdotes


Ruy Texeira  27:11  

out. So yeah, I mean, that's why it was called Silent Spring, it would get so bad that the birds wouldn't sing. So this hit the middle middle brow audience in the United States like a bombshell. But a really, at this point, it's all about air and water pollution, it's about stuff, you know, that the world in which we live becoming polluted with all kinds of bad stuff, it was going to be bad for animals are going to be bad for us, you know, the famous Tom Lehrer song about pollution. You know, it's, you can brush with the latest toothpaste and then rinse your mouth with industrial waste. I mean, it was it's a great song, everybody should listen to it. But that's what people were thinking about and worrying about. And this drove the initial burst of activity in the 60s and early 70s, which was really about cleaning up the environment. That was the original environmental movement, even though it sort of had this, these catastrophists ancestors, the actual political manifestation of that environmental concern was a burst of reformist legislation around basically the water in the air in particular, and then eventually, we had the NEPA rules, which we can talk about some other time, perhaps. But it clearly, a lot of stuff happened in a short period of time. And over time, it seems like the case is pretty strong that it worked, where there really did clean up the air and water to a large extent, and the country became less polluted. Air became less polluted, it was a good thing. But and this gets to your example, about the nuclear thing, you get to the 1970s, you know, after this burst of activity, and in the environmental movement, it's kind of looking around for something more to do. You had the energy crisis. And then you had people like Amory Levin's talking about the soft path to, to the to the to the righteous society, which would be anti nuclear, and rely on renewables. Because you know, concomitant with in this area, we have to, we do in the late 60s 70s 80s, have the build out of nuclear in the United States, and this became a cause celeb bruh. Among environmentalists, in a very short period of time, environment, the environmental movement and environmental lists went from being, hey, let's clean up the air and water to hey, let's stop the nukes. And so at a certain point, they really became coterminous. A lot of the environmental organizations signed on to the anti nuclear activity and policy positions. And in a short period of time you collapse, you know, environmentalism and the anti nuclear movement, they really become one in the same, which was


Chris Keefer  29:47  

paradoxically worsens air quality with coal plants being built instead of nuclear plants. But anyway, that's right,


Ruy Texeira  29:53  

right. That's another story. But I mean that but you know, what was the motivation for that? Right, this gets us back to catastrophism. Because the motivation for doing this was no question about it had basically preying on the public fear of nuclear bombs, nuclear explosions. Nuclear bad, right? I mean, the Unleashing the atom is not good for humankind, it will destroy us all. So it became very easy to convince people that to build more nuclear plants is to simply leave yourself open to catastrophic meltdowns. Nuclear waste would lie around forever. And, you know, make sure your children head to heads and stuff like that. And then in 7090, of course, you had the Three Mile Island accident, which, of course, it didn't kill anybody, but it did completely freak people out. And at the very same time, as you know, The China Syndrome came out with a big film with Jane Fonda. And that really like pushed a lot of the sentiment over the top. And at that point, you know, the nuclear anti nuclear movement really had the wind in its sails. And I think to, you know, to the, to the detriment of the American public, it actually became wildly successful. And over time, we found that through a variety of policy and regulatory movements and political interventions, it became essentially impossible to build nuclear in the United States.


Chris Keefer  31:23  

Because I mean, I really view and anti nuclear ism as underlying this desperate attempt to basically do anything but nuclear to respond to the climate crisis and to embrace the preposterous idea that, you know, we can run a modern industrial society on, on, you know, weather dependent resources. You know, and it's, it's interesting, because getting back maybe to the identity politics thing, it's renewables or this out of the sacred cow, which which must not be critiqued, and it's almost like they're a distinct identity group, that are that are almost, you know, vulnerable and must be, must be protected from from any any form of criticism, I guess, to criticize renewables in a world in which nuclear is not available, is basically to accept climate catastrophe. Maybe that's the kind of correct framing but this ultra sensitivity to pointing out the very worrisome flaws with a renewable centric energy transition really earns you the the ire of many on the progressive left. I think that's kind of a, an interesting phenomenon. Well, absolutely.


Ruy Texeira  32:24  

I mean, Chris, I should, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I have a book coming out with John Judas called wearable the Democrats gone. And part of what we do in the book, is we sort of argue that cultural radicalism has a huge influence on the evolution of the Democratic Party and alienation from the working class. And it's your overall political electoral problems. And we talk about in terms of cultural radicalism, we talk about race. We talked about immigration, we talked about gender ideology, but we have a whole chapter on climate. Because we really do think that I do think that climate has become part of cultural radicalism because it is part of an almost ideology or philosophy of the educated, college educated liberals who basically dominate the Democratic Party. This is this is part of their faith. This is part of their worldview, their Welton show, I mean, they do see renewables, as, as you say, the sacred cow that must be protected. And that if we just allow the cow to roam and feed it a lot, it will, it will deliver the beautiful world. We all want to live in Maine, of course, you and I know that's preposterous, but that's what they believe. And, you know, back to epistemic closure, they don't want people raising too many questions about this. They just don't. So, yeah, I do think it's become part of this panoply of culturally tinged issues that form part of the world outlook of this, of this group that now dominates left wing parties imagined in Canada to I'm sure in Canada too, and it definitely in the United States. And you're just questioning it is not allowed. And breaking out of the raising fundamental questions about whether this makes any sense. And, you know, why did we go off the nuclear path? Was this really a good idea? It doesn't get you much love and progressive.


Chris Keefer  34:23  

Well, and the kind of decarbonisation policies that are being pursued, I've started to refer to them as boutique, decarbonisation things like, you know, Eevee incentives, you know, for cars that only the ultra rich can afford, usually as a second or third vehicle, you know, the feed in tariffs, where, you know, affluent families can be rewarded for making a 30 $40,000 investment maybe it's cheaper now, in putting rooftop solar on and getting paid a premium rate, which is of course funded by non homeowners in a very regressive manner. You know, so So it's interesting, you know, rather than the big public works projects, which actually under li the ability to electrify with low carbon energy, those legacy projects of potentially the TVA, or here in Canada or nuclear build out, or the James Bay hydro project. I mean, these are what would seem to me to be the obvious solutions of the left to try and bring back those kinds of policies. I mean, building mega projects is hard. I get why politicians shy away from that there's there's risk to that. But one would think those would be the logical policies certainly of Mr. Thompson, perhaps the old left or the pre, the pre new left, I don't know what pretty new, less pretty awkward phrasing, but you hear what I'm saying in terms of that, that boutique, decarbonisation narrative?


Ruy Texeira  35:38  

Well, let me play the devil's advocate here, Chris. I mean, I think what people might say, who were, you know, a little bit more left wing than we are listening to this conversation, I say, wait a minute, we are building nuclear. Now we are, you know, look at the inflation Reduction Act in the United States, there was no support for nuclear, there are at least a few, you know, plants being built. You know, it's, it's more of an all of the above strategy. So what are you complaining about? Do you get the same thing in Canada, where people say, we are doing some stuff on nuclear? Why don't you just like, Shut up and get with the program?


Chris Keefer  36:13  

Well, people certainly, you know, say in my advocacy, I shouldn't poke any holes in the renewables narrative, you know, this this kind of nice non conflict based all of the above approach? You know, and I bring that back to this question of what are our goals, you know, and in terms of obviously, deep and effective decarbonisation, we have a proven track record with large hydro and nuclear. But beyond that, in terms of my leftist commitments, to, you know, the role of labor to temper capitalism to temper extreme accumulation and inequality. You know, unions are imperfect. But they do play. I think that that vital role, and the winning of just working conditions, I mean, I think a lot of that, as we saw in some of the legislation advanced in Illinois at the time of the barn and Dresden plants, and a lot of the academic just transition discourse is one in which well, we will just mandate unionization and these renewables jobs or will mandate prevailing wages were the total ignorance, which I think is shameful for leftist to have this blind spot to the idea that just working conditions, just wages, worker safety, that was achieved through struggle. And it was it was achieved, basically through the right to strike and the threat to strike. And with worker list facilities like wind and solar farms, where the jobs are only really in the construction phase and their skills, they're transitory, they're de localized, one does not have worker power, in order to be able to make those, those demands for higher wages, you know, which, which lies at the basis of not just the just transition, but just adjusted working place to begin with? So, you know, that's, that's how I ended up pushing back, you know,


Ruy Texeira  37:48  

frost, so it's a relative weight question, isn't it? I mean, least that's how I sometimes address it. I mean, it's fine that there is some support, or nuclear. But if you look at the relative weight of nuclear within the basket of incentives and policies that are being pushed in countries, like the US and Canada, I mean, it's it's pretty far, nuclear is pretty far down the list of renewables are, you know, numbers 1234 And five, right. So, I think that's, you know, I mean, that's a huge part of the problem. Right. And the the electric vehicles thing is interesting, I think, right? Because I think we probably agree that, you know, the idea that we're going to really rapidly move toward replacing, you know, ice vehicles with, with electric vehicles. And everybody's going to be totally delighted with this is pretty fanciful. But I think what people tend to say, in the United States as well, okay, let's leave that aside. But look at all the electric vehicle plants that are that are coming into online, these will produce good jobs for honest, hardworking Americans, you know, how can you not like that? So, which then raises the question, I suppose, is to what extent we can see it now. Is this a viable? I mean, really, it's sort of a whole economic strategy, right? We're going to rebuild the American economy, or whatever around this clean energy transition, part of which is, is rolling out electric vehicles. So I think it's kind of creates an interesting dynamic where, yeah, some jobs are being created in the short term, and maybe in the medium term, too. But how much potential does that have over the long term? How much is this really going to work out? If you bet a lot on electric vehicles, and people don't wind up wanting to buy them very much? What happens to your strategy? Have you have you thought much about that? I think it's this is the kind of thing people are talking about here in the US,


Chris Keefer  39:45  

for sure. I mean, it does seem like a bubble that has the potential to burst. I mean, we hear about every electric vehicle that Ford sells, they're losing $60,000 Not they're making it up and there's there's an inertia phase to getting a new industry. going, no doubt. But certainly it's, you know, quite subsidy heavy at this point between our two large battery electric vehicle plants that we're setting up here in Ontario, the subsidies will amount to more than a year of Canadian military spending. So these are these are no small potatoes in terms of corporate subsidy. And for me, it's just, you know, I was at a climate townhall with my local MP. And you know, the government refers to these as zero emission vehicles and there's there's embodied emissions here. I think there's this kind of pure puritanical decarbonisation at work, which folks like, you know, very astute energy analysts like Vaslav, SMIL, push back against, there's no panacea, there's no easy way if anyone ever tells you that it's going to be easy that it's as simple as driving a so called zero emission vehicle. You know, they're lying through their pants, humanity is wedded, wedded to fossil fuels and our disentanglement. If possible, it will be extremely, extremely painful and not politically popular. So for me, it's this kind of tragic, like the whole this whole, I think climate change is very important to act on. But it's an incredibly complex thing. It's a Gordian knot that's very, very difficult to untie and again, will be quite quite painful to do so well, sure,


Ruy Texeira  41:11  

that connects to the catastrophist stuff, right? Because if you truly believe that we are on the verge of a profound catastrophe, unless we move extremely fast, I think that sort of adults, you're thinking in so many different ways, right? It leads you away from the ground truth that Vaclav Smil has outlined so compellingly, just how hard it will be, to move to a industrial societies that are based much less on fossil fuels, and that this will take a long time. That's the thing I keep on coming back to in a way, not just that it will be hard, we're talking about a lengthy period of time, realistically to make anything remotely like this happen. But because people's thinking is so addled, by the sense that or the belief that we are on the verge of the precipice, that I think it doesn't lead you to very realistic thinking about policy and about economic transitions, right? I mean, because you think you have to do it now. There's no such thing as going too fast. And I think that this, this is really a fundamental part of the problem with why people can't think clearly about this stuff, because they are so bought into, into climate catastrophism as opposed to understanding climate change as a as an ongoing issue that will take some time to deal with kind of like, I think it was Ted Nordhaus who described it more as diabetes and a meteor hitting the Earth.


Chris Keefer  42:42  

Right, right, for sure. I mean, diabetes does have long term complications, I am no climate minimalist. But again, I think that, you know, this kind of war communism approach is not going to be politically popular, and indeed, is driving a lot of working class voters as I think you're documenting away from the traditional parties of the left. I mean, what do you to what degree do you think that is, is the fundamental driver? In terms of voting patterns? You know, I guess your expertise is within the US?


Ruy Texeira  43:15  

Well, I think it's part and parcel of of the evolution of parties to the left, including the democratic part of the United States away from like a working class orientation, and more toward the views of people who are educated and relatively affluent. I mean, you can I mean, this has been well documented by Thomas Piketty and his collaborators. You can see these cleavages happening everywhere. In the in the advanced world, you see, basically, people can't see this on a podcast, but you've basically got the most educated part of the population becoming increasingly democratic or leftist and the, you know, the working class, the least educated becoming progressively more right wing and less left wing. So this is just a pattern everywhere. And I think the climate issue is part and parcel of that cultural economic divorce between the parties to the left and their traditional base in climate change is something everyone is at least somewhat concerned about. But the salience of that issue, and particularly the relationship, that issue to renewables is much, much, much stronger against this increasingly strong and indeed, hegemonic part of left wing parties, which is they're educated, relatively affluent, Metropolitan, cosmopolitan supporters. This is what is salient to them. This is what's really important. And if the working class isn't on board with this, you know, tough luck. We know this has to be done. And you know, these people they just don't get it. They're behind the times a reactionary is In so many ways, and this really is just in our concern. So the the tendency of parties the left become much more respond to the views of their new supporters and much less respond to the use of their old supporters is not surprisingly, driving old supporters away from the parties to the left or to other alternatives. I mean, how could it be otherwise? And I think nobody should be surprised at this.


Chris Keefer  45:21  

It's interesting how how quickly the times have changed. I think sort of my my peak, leftism was and kind of a real moment of hope. And what I perceived as opportunity was the pink tide washing over Latin America in the early 2000s. And that was largely based upon, you know, this idea of resource nationalism, of reasserting control over natural resources, whether it was oil in Venezuela or natural gas in Bolivia, you know, trying to escape from the Washington Consensus develop in a regional autonomy, a multipolar world, but particularly that element of you know, leveraging the fossil fuel resources of the country, in order to develop the country and all of the sort of national liberation movements in the post colonial era were about trying to develop not not be austere, maybe other than sort of the Khmer Rouge and sort of Pol Pot. And I mean, I've in front, I thought I was, you know, the genius who came up with the term Camaro there, you know, the French, the French word, ver, being for green. But it is a term that's, that's used in France and makes sense in the French speaking world that that one would have, you know, been been discovered before this, you know, humble thinker came up with it. But yeah, I mean, again, this idea, again, just 1015 years ago, which is quite popular, I think amongst, you know, certainly the radical left of celebrating this example of, you know, Venezuela or Bolivia, leveraging their fossil fuel resources, taking them out of the grasp of the empire, getting value for them, and investing in their, their social programs and in the development of their country. And now, 15 years later, that would be an athame. I think, ya know,


Ruy Texeira  47:03  

that that's a fascinating example, Chris. And I hadn't really thought about that, but it makes total sense. You know, before fossil fuels become became so branded as being the tools of Satan, it was possible for people on the left to respond to political developments like that, in less developed parts of the world and think, Hey, this is pretty good. Just because it involves fossil fuels doesn't mean it's bad. But now, I think we are more in a situation where anything that involves fossil fuels, is bad. And I think the fact you bring this up in the context of the less developed world is important. Because, you know, one of the most profound contradictions, arguably the most profound contradiction of today's clean energy left, you know, renewables transition left is that they seem to be completely unaware of the fact that most people in the world aren't as rich as the people in the countries in which they are pursuing this activism. And they need to develop, they need reliable energy supplies, and the idea that this can be done in these less developed parts of the world without considerable fossil fuels. And without building up an infrastructure that is not in fact, just dependent weather dependent renewables. I mean, it's utterly preposterous. So you're basically telling, you know, the overwhelming majority of the world to cool it. And don't worry so much about getting rich and moving into the middle class and having reliable energy. You know, what's most important as we have to fight climate change, and therefore need to forget about all this fossil fuel stuff and immediately bailed out? Wind and solar and all this stuff? I mean, it's it's absolutely staggering that people on the left would promote this retro grade retrogressive. Anti, you know, sort of poor people kind of thinking, I mean, it really, it's gobsmacking in some ways, is it not? Do you think people are even aware of how idiotic they're being and how sort of, in a way, almost cruel?


Chris Keefer  49:07  

Well, I think it points towards this, this loss of engineering discipline. On the left, I've had Naomi Klein's brother, Seth Klein on the podcast to talk about his book things called The Good War. And it's basically talking about how Canada really punched far above its weight in terms of war materiel production in World War Two, you know, we started something like 34, Crown corporations or state owned enterprises which banged out, you know, more motorised vehicles than the entire Axis powers with the third largest air force in terms of the number of airplanes in absolutely extraordinary production. He says, why can't we do this with windmills and solar panels? The only thing holding us back is this kind of conspiracy theory of capitalist elites and captured politicians rather than the thermodynamics of energy. You know, so So, yeah, I think it has a lot to do with with that, that loss of just understanding that it's would take an unknown Ormus amount of fossil fuels and it did to achieve that level of production to, you know, yeah, steel, for instance,


Ruy Texeira  50:06  

enter dank discipline, that's a good phrase on the start using it, because it really is true. I mean, you read, the more you delve into the realities of the grid, and what it takes to supply energy and the relationship of, you know, ramping up renewables to this infrastructure. And to these requirements, you even get down to, as our friend Robert Bryce writes about about transformers, they're all these parts of the system that are extremely important. And they, their difficulties cannot be wished away.


Chris Keefer  50:36  

And they're very hard to model in an Excel sheet, or more sophisticated software, you know, these kinds of bumps in the road, which are vital, vital choking points.


Ruy Texeira  50:45  

And if we weren't in such a hurry to, you know, get to 100% renewables or, you know, just shave off the climate catastrophe, we could think about these things, right? Because we wouldn't feel like we basically have a gun to our head. And if we don't move incredibly fast, then we're all gonna die. I mean, you could start thinking well, okay, how do we actually do this? How can this be engineered? How can this really happen?


Chris Keefer  51:08  

Panic is being sold to us as virtue when it comes to climate response, maybe not the most level headed position with which to examine the problem. You know, there's this phrase, I'm hearing more and more, the left would hate it, because the the, it's gendered. But this idea that, you know, soft, soft, hard times produce hard man hard men create soft times, soft, soft times, great soft men and soft men great hard times. I mean, I think I think we could definitely try and find a way to rephrase that. That'd be more inclusive. However, it does feel it does feel like we have exited, you know, the soft times period, and potentially leadership is starting to change as we enter into the new hard times cycle. Do you see any examples on the left, that give you any any hope whatsoever? In sensible policy and politics emerging, really anywhere around the world? Well,


Ruy Texeira  52:04  

I mean, I think reality has bitten back and sort of working class discontent has bitten back to some extent, we do see it sort of in American, you know, intellectual left circles is much more of a realization of how difficult the energy transition will be. And certainly, there's much more of a reconsideration of nuclear. And back to what I was talking about an inflation Reduction Act, I mean, maybe the relative weight is off, but there is at least some recognition, nuclear has to be part of the solution. And there may not fact be as possible as we'd like to roll this out as fast as as we might. And then I think there's some fundamental realities. So say, you know, EVs and how fast they're going to be adopted, and the United States if you're going to use a lot of wind and solar, what about the high voltage, long distance transmission lines? What about you know, how fast can they be belt? Why can't they be belt? Why can't nuclear be built? Why is it so damn hard to build stuff here in the United States? Anyway? Maybe that's a bad thing. So I think the evolution of or the promulgation of what we call here in the US supply side, progressivism, sometimes it's called the abundance agenda, there's a recognition that the system is not well adapted to producing the outcomes that we need to produce, in a both for a clean energy transition for a lot of other stuff as well, that leads to a bit more hard headed thinking about, you know, how can we get shit done? How can we actually like provide energy for people? How can we make sure it's cheap and reliable? I think reality is starting to creep in. And when reality creeps in politicians tend to respond a little bit. So for example, who had Biden green lighting, the willow project you had giving in in the debt ceiling bill that was recently passed, to actually change the permitting rules somewhat into green light mansions, mountain valley, gas pipeline. So these are small steps, baby steps, and I'd say, but I do think that politicians are going to have to respond to the realities of what's going on with transforming the energy system, what works, what doesn't. And I think was it isn't it Roger pillowcase kind of like law, whatever. Whatever a commitment to clean energy compliant, sort of, sort of clashes with a commitment to growth, reliable energy, growth and reliable energy will always weigh down something like that, right. So I think politicians are increasingly going to be confronted with that choice, either A, we press the accelerate and go down this path that's supposedly going to produce the green utopia or be we provide our citizens with reliable energy and economic growth. They will choose B. So I think that's it That's what will produce, in the end a better kind of a more sensible politics. I mean, you can look at Macron and France and some of the ways he's dealt with the energy questions that's positive, I can't say much about your Starmer, you're talking about that before the pod started and his labour party about what they propose. They do seem to be all in on on a pretty impractical approach to things. So I'd say there's grounds for optimism, but it's less because we see politicians doing like U turns on this stuff. And more, because they're starting to confront the realities of what they're trying to do, and that it's going to force them to take different approaches. That's what would lead me to be optimistic.


Chris Keefer  55:46  

Yeah, I mean, I think my own strategy in helping to kind of engineer U turn in our own federal politics back towards nuclear has been very much to try and drive a wedge, between the elite environmental capture of the leadership of so called progressive parties, and labor, I mean, ultimately, of getting back to this commitment to labor labor are will be the heroes of any kind of energy transition, they're the ones who are going to build it, you know, and this is generally that sort of blue collar skilled labor folks who are going to lie at the heart of that, in terms of, I think, being the choke point being the the rate limiting step. And it's interesting, I'm making this analogy, and it may be a bit far off, you're far fetched, but in terms of the kind of demographic collapse in terms of, you know, learn to code, rather than get your hands dirty as a pipe fitter, as a welder. And we have seen a real collapse. In the skilled trades, the average ages are, you know, in their late 40s, early 50s. And I harken back to, to the Black Plague. And, you know, how many the kind of European peasantry that was wiped out and the relative political advantage that was gained just because of this constrained labor force, which again, I think leads to, you know, more craft guilds and you know, in some degree, some way, shape or form, this is very kind of the, at the edge of my knowledge base. But I think we're gonna see something very similar, where I'm, we're seeing it right in my local jurisdiction here where, you know, as as we talk about reshoring, certainly, you know, critical and strategic industries from places like China, where, you know, this multipolar world is emerging with some pretty serious geopolitical trends, we're seeing a reindustrialization and a reliance in the need on this, you know, pretty vital group who I think will gain a lot of political power. And if they flex that muscle will be able to impact policy and, you know, hopefully, there's ways to engage them to build, you know, real clean energy that that benefits them, and, and not, you know, the kind of renting a class and subsidy harvesters. That's kind of my own sort of political platform or manifesto there.


Ruy Texeira  57:47  

I 100% endorse the Chris key for a plan for building worker power and going toward a practical clean energy transition.


Chris Keefer  57:56  

All right, well, I think I like to end on that note, that's it's nice to end with an endorsement for him, but really to share. But a great conversation, I think, I think we did, you know, circle back to the beginning. And again, the basis of our values, you know, and again, I mean, I think, correct me if I'm wrong, but you know, we're both in favor of, you know, robust social services, a social safety net, to prevent, you know, extreme poverty and the kind of just insult to humanity that are, you know, the faces of, you know, starving children and tattered clothes, if the Great Depression, for instance, you know, one of the great sort of contradiction moments of capitalism, but that these robust social services rely upon production they rely upon, you know, the ability to extract mind refine, build things generate wealth. And that, you know, it's interesting reading an article about Germany's recession, as a result of their ridiculous energy planning. And that, yes, this is a very wealthy society with generous subsidies for even the arts and other things, but that those things are at risk, if we undermine that underlying production, which the modern left has become so endorsed, so So divorced from so anyway, a little bit of a diatribe to end it, right. Any any good read. I like any final thoughts? I hate I, me being the one to end there. So I'll give you the final word, right?


Ruy Texeira  59:15  

I don't have any final word really, other than you know, I'm in agreement with you we're at. We're in a SIP political situation where reality is starting to fight back. And I'd say people like us need to help help that bite back and make it a little bit more painful, a little bit more obvious so that people can move on to a different course. So will in fact benefit many more people lead to a much better society over the long haul, you know, in a way, we're trying to get the left back to its original purposes and commitments. It's really as simple as that.


Chris Keefer  59:49  

Okay, final final question that might might be able to be a little less vague for you to answer. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger wrote an essay that I really think was really quite influential and shook a lot of environmental Scott the death of environmentalists, yes. Is there something needed that's similar to the death of I don't want to say the death of the left, I mean so many things to different people, and I don't want to offend people who, you know, hold the kind of values that potentially we hold. But are we in that kind of a moment where there needs to just be a radical transformation of these politics or new politics emerging? Or does it just a matter of reviving some of that those old left values?


Ruy Texeira  1:00:24  

Well, I think they're really kind of the same thing in a way. I mean, there has to be a, you know, in a sense, as you say, the death of the left, as it's currently constituted, just like the death of environmentalism that Nordhaus and Shellenberger talked about, but that death and rebirth, to some extent, has to involve going back to the original commitments and priorities of the left, as John Judas and I put it in our forthcoming book where well, the Democrats gone, you know, you could do worse and looking back to the way the FDR New Deal, Democrats dealt with the questions of culture and economic development. They were the party of the common man and woman, the ordinary American, and that was their fundamental commitment. And they didn't have a particularly radical views on cultural issues. They were actually moderate to conservative on most things. And their commitment was first and foremost to, you know, the Forgotten Americans to the sort of average person that habit in the society and whose needs needed to be attended to. And by reordering and the left toward that and away from fashionable, boutique concerns about identitarian issues and about climate justice and what have you, I think the left can reinvent itself by taking advantage of its roots in the past. And the fact that the currently existing offers from the left flat out don't work. So, so yes, I do think we need a sort of death of the left and a rebirth, but a rebirth that builds itself firmly on what what made sense in the Old Left tradition.


Chris Keefer  1:01:59  

Okay, Roy, it's been great. It's been a slice. Thank you for for making the time for decouple. Hey, it was fun.



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