Sunday, April 03, 2005

A FEW DAYS AGO, Kevin Drum over at Political Animal, posting about Democracy Arsenal, a new blog on the left, commented that liberals should start to come up with solid ideas about what their political philosophy stands for.

Today, Jeanne at Body and Soul makes an observation, in a post entitled "John Paul and Tom Friedman," that I think is one essential item on the list of things liberals should stand for:

In 1987, John Paul issued an encyclical -- Sollicitudo Rei Socialis -- which, though it never uses the word "globalization," is a reminder of how exploitative global economic policies not only harm the least powerful, but undercut the basic human dignity of all of us, pushing us to see foreign workers as "some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful," instead of as our "neighbor," pushing us to see ourselves first as consumers, not as full human beings.

You need only read Tom Friedman's paean not to creating economic relationships that meet human needs, but to creating men and women who fit neatly into the economic machine, to see a perfect, and repulsive, example of what John Paul was talking about.

We need to get going immediately. It takes 15 years to train a good engineer, because, ladies and gentlemen, this really is rocket science. So parents, throw away the Game Boy, turn off the television and get your kids to work. There is no sugar-coating this: in a flat world, every individual is going to have to run a little faster if he or she wants to advance his or her standard of living. When I was growing up, my parents used to say to me, ''Tom, finish your dinner -- people in China are starving.'' But after sailing to the edges of the flat world for a year, I am now telling my own daughters, ''Girls, finish your homework -- people in China and India are starving for your jobs.''

Reading Friedman on the day after John Paul's death, I can't help but see the latter, whatever his other flaws and virtues, as the anti-Friedman. And that is a voice I am very sorry to lose.

Although Jeanne was not talking here about what liberals should stand for, it seems to me that she has unwittingly come up with what, arguably, should be first on the list. Liberals, and liberalism as a political philosophy, should stand for the idea that human beings, and not corporations or faceless economic institutions, should inform economic and political arrangements. Economic policy should serve human needs, and should be shaped with the needs of human beings in mind; rather than asking human beings to shape themselves to serve the needs of corporations and business.

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