Steve Redlich just set up my account, and I will be blogging on this site. I am an associate professor of business at Brooklyn College, which is a campus of the City University of New York. I live in upstate, New York, in the Woodstock, New York area.
I joined the Libertarian Party in 1977 and was active in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Thereafter, I waffled between the Democratic and Republican parties for about 10 years. In 1991 I briefly worked as a senior budget analyst in the New York State Assembly for the Democrats, before I became an associate professor. (In the 1970s and early 1980s I worked for Johnson and Johnson and other large corporations and went to UCLA Business School).
I finally enrolled as a Republican in the early 1990s. I was not active until post 2004, when George W. Bush announced his belief in big government. As well, the economy began to trouble me around then. My published work has focused on regulation and human resource management (my Ph.D. from Columbia Business School focused on the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, ERISA). I have published on ERISA in various journals such as Journal of Economic Issues, Journal of Labor Research and Benefits Quarterly. I have also written on human resource and other issues in Human Resource Management Journal, Academy of Management Learning and Education Journal and Academic Questions, the journal of the National Association of Scholars. I also have written in the sadly-now-defunct New York Sun and FrontPage Magazine. As well, I blog at http://www.mitchell-langbert.blogspot.com.
Last night, I re-read David Riesmann’s 1950 sociological classic, The Lonely Crowd. In many ways, the 2008 election reflected Riesmann’s ideas. To refresh your memory, Riesmann argued that there are three personality types in the modern world: tradition-directed, inner-directed (who are driven by their inner values) and other-directed (whose values are driven by fashion, mass media, urban trends and higher education). There is a bias in Riesmann’s typology in that he suggests that other-directedness bears a developmental relationship to inner-directedness that inner-directedness bears to tradition-directedness. This is so historically but it is not dictated by production technology as Riesmann supposes.
The relationship between individualism and production technology changed around the same time that Riesmann was writing his book. In Japan, Toyota’s executive vice president of manufacturing, Taiichi Ohno, devised a process known as lean production and, as well, the Japanese invited Edward I. Deming to educate them as to quality processes. Lean production and total quality management require a degree of initiative and empower teams of line workers. The powerlessness associated with American bureaucratic and factory systems has not yielded as much productivity and efficiency as has TQM. Yet, a degree of goal orientation, focus and lifetime employment are consistent with the new production methods, at least where they work best. These can lead to a sense of self-reliance and focus. As well, the professionalization of the workforce in America led to an enhanced degree of emphasis on goal setting and career focus. The dynamic, flexible economy of the post World War II era made the opinion of others a flimsy reed on which to rely. Corporations like AT&T that had seemed invincible in 1950 fell in the 1980s. The result was that Americans had to rely on their own resources. This created a resurgence of inner-directedness. The most important success books of the 1990s were The Millionaire Next Door and Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and both of these books emphasized traits most consistent with inner-directedness. Not that other-directedness is totally rejected or minimized, they are not, but American workers have found that the assumption that good interpersonal skills and conforming to media and fashion are enough is wrong.
The public has therefore fragmented to an increasing degree. The mass media remains rooted in the 1950s model, and the products of universities, MBA graduates and academics, are often imbued with an elitist, other-directed sense whereby they believe that those in the know are smart and those who do not fit aren’t. Thus the reaction to Sarah Palin, who threatens the other-directed social structure on which the mass media feeds. The reaction to Palin is that she is not smart, unlike Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan, the executives of Citigroup and Barack Obama. On the other hand, rural Americans retain a strong degree of inner-directedness. More Americans from urban areas intuit the importance of self reliance and freedom, but have not tied this new orientation to a political ideology.
The election of Barack Obama is a triumph of other-direction over inner-direction. The reason for this triumph, though, was the stealth other-directedness of George W. Bush. He had packaged himself as a conservative. However, he was highly responsive to his advisers, ignoring logic and alternative views, both with respect to military strategy and the economy. That is, his other-directedness was seen in his easy money policy and lack of vision. Thus, Mr. Bush managed to alienate a segment of the inner-directed.
Riesmann noted that inner-directed Americans tend to have an inferiority complex. This is still the case. The inner-directed have not often been able to produce many good quality candidates. Part of the reason is that the mass media is the fountainhead of other-directedness, and the sport of politics relies heavily on the mass media. This is beginning to change as the Internet fragments information. More Americans read blogs than watch TV news. This opens opportunities for the inner directed and for libertarians.
Libertarianism may be viewed as the ideology of inner-directedness. Its early evolution was part and parcel of the Whig and Protestant revolution in England, and its heyday was the period of greatest inner directedness, the period from 1820 to 1890.
What this theory points to is the need to package the Libertarian message to those inner-directeds who have been frustrated by the given offerings in politics but do not yet see individualist ideology as a practical alternative. Inner directeds can be altruistic and are often religious. Libertarians need to do a better job of reaching out to these segments. One of the tragedies of Bush Republicanism is that it identified “free markets” with opportunism. This has helped to alienate America to rational economics. I suspect we are in for a tragic ride as a result.
I watched some video excerpts of the Obama inauguration on the Wall Street Journal‘s site. What struck me was not Obama’s words, but the three stock market tickers at the bottom of the video. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 189 points but gold was up several percent. As a gold investor, I was not unhappy, but cannot help but anticipate that the other-directed economics of George W. Bush and Barack Obama will open significant opportunities for the Republican Liberty Caucus if we have the imagination to seize them.