Steven Rattner’s right – we need to reclaim the center!
I couldn’t agree more with Steven Rattner, Wall Street financier, former Obama “car czar”, and self proclaimed centrist: we need to “Reclaim the Center”. There are few terms in our political discourse more abused than “the center”, having as it does the valuable connotations of being non-radical, reasonable, intelligent, and moral. It’s way past time we assign it a proper meaning.
I propose we consider political views “central” if they’re rooted in the real world and conform to the basic moral philosophies common to the major world religions and philosophical works.
Compassion, Schopenhauer tells us, is the basic center of morality and that view is widely shared in most religious and philosophical traditions. Veblen perceptively linked the brotherly love aspect of Christianity to the instinct of workmanship and its serviceability to the common good. Without getting any more philosophical, I think it’s reasonable to claim that compassion, brotherly love, and the common good are reasonable distillations of widely shared moral teachings and are therefore fundamentally centrist.
But a centrist in our definition understands the limits and potentials of the real world. When thinking about the economy, therefore, the focus must be on things that are real – like real productive capacity, the real state of technological advancement, and so on. Centrist morality tells us that the common good – widespread prosperity – must be the prime goal; and the state of the real world determines how prosperous we can all be.
This, then, is what I would call centrism and political positions that stray from it cannot credibly claim the title.
Steven Rattner is not remotely a centrist. His world view isn’t grounded in the morality of compassion, brotherly love, and the common good and neither is it rooted in the recognition of our real productive potential. Production, according to Rattner, must be subservient to the non-real, the “financial”. Despite the fact we have horrendous levels of unemployment, insecurity, and poverty in the United States and throughout the world, and despite having an incredibly vast productive capacity, he can find little to talk about other than the public debt. Production must always be contained, not by real human or environmental constraints, but by the need to conform to a rigid amoral accounting system which needlessly rations fiat currency as if it were the rarest of gems.
There’s no reason to go any further with his article as it’s the standard diatribe we read every day from the self-proclaimed, oh so reasonable centrists. The positions are well known – in place of compassion, brotherly love, and the common good, we find the self serving principles of finance, competition, oligarchy, and austerity.
Those firmly planted in human values and reality have every right to claim the title of centrist; those such as Rattner are the anti-centrists and must be branded as the “egocentric”, “eccentric”, unreal, immoral radicals they truly are.