A couple of responses to responses to my post on beer and neoliberalism.
Henry Farrell suggested that we can distinguish between craft beer and charter schools on the grounds that “there is zero probability that Dogfish Head will redefine main market for pissy American beer.” Tom Philpott, similarly, says “realistically they suffer much more from the globalization of beer production than, say, Dogfish Head.”
That’s all fine. The important thing to note is how much of the argument Farrell and Philpott have given up to the neoliberal side. The debate is over whether or not progressives can, in good conscience, support opening up unionized firms in a marketplace featuring strong regulatory barriers to competition. The Farrell/Philpott explanations of why this is okay in the case of domestic craft beer rely on the claim that empirically speaking the impact of the new entrant in question on the marketplace is going to be small. That may be true, but it’s in considerable tension with the impulse of Philpott (based on his original article) and Farrell (assuming “pissy” is not a compliment) to valorize the new entrants. After all, the scale issue works on both sides. If craft beers were more popular, their implications for labor would be more severe but the benefits to consumers from their existence would be smaller. There seems to me to be a kind of special pleading at work here, where on the one hand a neoliberal approach to the beer market is justified on the grounds that it’s giving consumers superior options, but then it’s okay to be a neoliberal about beer because only a tiny minority of consumers will actually appreciate these new options. Neoliberalism for me but not for thee, somewhat reminiscent of the general lack of support among left-wing intellectuals for protecting WGA and SAG members from competition from imported BBC programming.
Another line of pushback I got over email was to say “well if we had labor law reform we could unionize these new producers.” That’s certainly true. By the same token, if we had more progressive taxation we could ensure that trade with China is beneficial to all Americans. Many critics of neoliberalism, however, note that this redistribution is often purely hypothetical and urge us to perhaps say that new trade deals can be passed only if redistribution is part of the package. By the same token, not only is labor law reform purely hypothetical here, but the political outlook for labor law reform gets worse every time a new non-union firm enters the beer industry.