We are in the middle of an epochal struggle over the direction of American economic policy.
The Democrats, who are currently in charge, want to follow a Keynesian model, which entails massive government spending — with its attendant tax increases and soaring deficit — to jump-start the economy.
The Republicans think the solution to our economic doldrums is to lower taxes and decrease spending, to stimulate business activity and help the nation climb out of its crippling debt.
And then there’s Barack Obama….
You might think he would be the natural spokesman for the Democratic strategy. And when the cameras are turned on, he is. But under the surface he’s also an advocate for a third economic policy, one that isn’t spoken of in polite company: The Cloward-Piven Strategy.
Problem is, the Cloward-Piven Strategy is not simply some alternate theory about the best way to rescue the American economy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Its goal is to intentionally ruin the economy, so as to arouse popular outcry for a revolutionary and fundamental change in our economic system.
I propose that President Obama is simultaneously trying to rescue the economy using the Keynesian/Democratic model while at the same time also trying to destroy the economy through the Cloward-Piven Strategy. His two mutually contradictory plans cancel each other out, rendering all his efforts self-negating, and this explains why the American economy has stalled.
I dub this the Obama-Piven Strategy. And it’s the reason why we remain mired in a deep recession. We are neither recovering, as the Keynesian model predicts, nor is capitalism collapsing, as the revolutionaries hope; the Obama-Piven strategy ensures that we remain in suspended animation between the two extremes.
(No offense to Cloward, it’s just that the “Obama-Piven Strategy” rolls off the tongue more easily than the “Cloward-Obama Strategy.”)
The Cloward-Piven Strategy, for those of you unfamiliar with it, was named after its formulators, two Columbia University sociologists named Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven. In an influential 1966 essay published in The Nation magazine, they outlined a strategy through which every American would receive a nationwide “guaranteed annual income.” To bring this about, they essentially recommended that as many people as possible should be enrolled in government welfare programs so as to intentionally bankrupt the system; our elected officials would then feel politically compelled to create an overarching permanent drastic solution to the welfare problem, restructuring our free-market economy along socialistic lines — what the authors described as “the outright redistribution of income.”
Now, I’m not here to assess the wisdom or likelihood of the Cloward-Piven Strategy. I’m only pointing out that its intent, unlike those of traditional economic theories, is to wreak havoc on and eventually destroy the American economy, as part of a larger political goal. And that its proposed mechanism for destroying the economy is to maximize the number of people receiving government benefits.
The following four color-coded charts summarize the four economic theories competing for dominance in contemporary America.
We’ll start with the Republican Strategy, since for the purposes of this article it is (temporarily, at least) an outlier:
|The 2010 Republican Economic Strategy|
|• Reduce taxes and decrease spending|
|Goal: To improve the economy in the long run by stimulating business activity and lowering the deficit|
|Free market / small government fiscal theory|
Note that this is actually the Tea Party strategy; it has only recently been adopted (in theory, at least) by the Republican Party, which formerly had not been very strict about minimizing the deficit.
Next, the Democrats:
|The 2010 Democratic Economic Strategy|
|• Raise taxes and increase spending|
|Goal: To improve the economy in the short run by taking in higher revenue and distributing cash to stimulate consumption|
In a sane world, those would be the only two charts we’d need. But tucked away in our new president’s ideological baggage was yet a third strategy, which is not exactly equivalent to the other two:
|The 2010 Cloward-Piven Economic Strategy|
|• Increase government programs, welfare demands, handouts and benefits to as many people as possible|
|Goal: To destroy the economy as a necessary precursor to a more drastic redistributionist/socialist makeover of society|
|Intentionally bankrupting the capitalist system to initiate revolutionary change|
Now, if you were to combine the two strategies above, you’d get the actual current winner in the Battle of the Economic Theories, the self-defeating combo-strategy confusingly championed by the leader of our nation:
|The 2010 Obama-Piven Economic Strategy|
|• Increase government programs, handouts, benefits, taxes and spending as rapidly and drastically as possible|
|Goal: To simultaneously destroy and improve the economy|
|A muddled combination of the Democratic Strategy and the Cloward-Piven Strategy|
A Generalized Term
As originally formulated in their Nation essay, Cloward’s and Piven’s recommendations were highly specific to the 1966 political climate. They discuss at length the alliances of the mid-’60s Democratic Party, and derive their theories from the assumption that welfare programs are operated mostly at the state and local level (as many were, in those days). Consequently, 21st-century progressives seeking to quash discussion of Cloward-Piven often dismiss it as anachronistic and not relevant to the modern world, and point to the theory’s now-outdated specifics as proof that it’s no longer worth getting worked up over.
But when we speak of “The Cloward-Piven Strategy” in 2010, we are speaking of the generalized form of the theory. This often happens with political ideas: They emerge in a highly specific historical context, but later become universalized. For example, “fascism” no longer refers in common parlance to a bunch of Italian nationalists running around in black shirts, but rather has been generalized over the decades to describe any totalitarian attitude. Even Marxism, in its original formulation, concerned itself with Industrial-Revolution-era class distinctions which by now no longer even exist, yet we can still speak of Marxism in the modern era because we are referring to the principles underlying Marxism, not the idiosyncratic details spelled out in the mid-19th century.
And so, in a similar vein, when I discuss the “Cloward-Piven Strategy” in this essay, I’m speaking of the generalized principle behind the strategy, rather than the era-specific details about “Dixiecrats” and “the ghetto vote” mentioned in the Nation article.
In modern terms, the “Cloward-Piven Strategy” refers to the goal of bringing about a stealth economic revolution by intentionally overburdening the capitalist system with welfare demands until the economy collapses, necessitating a fundamental social restructuring.