Alt-Left Stance on Economy

When all is said and done, politics very often comes down to the economy. Any self-respecting political current must first and foremost hold opinions and perspectives on how the economy functions and how it can be developed. In this post we take a look at some of the economic thinking of the Alt-Left.

The main difference between the Old Left and the Alt-Left is that the latter focuses more on the cultural, behavioral and psychological sides of economic life. In a world where material resources are relatively abundant and information and information processing become dominant in economic life, money begins to matter less than e.g. cultural capital, good social relations and access to high quality information. What is lacking is not stuff, or money, but intelligent solutions for distribution, value creation and ideas about what to do with our lives in the first place. To create a fair and sustainable global order we must create better social settings for people to do worthwhile things.

We have already stated that this entails a “betrayal of the working class” (read previous post in this series). What do we mean by that? Basically it means that the Alt-Left loosens its ties to the worker movements and the interests of labor (higher wages, safer employment, benefits, consumption and so on). Simply put, the greatest problem of the world is no longer that working and middle class people make too little money. Many of the problems that come from poverty and economic precariousness are – upon closer inspection – in fact social and psychological problems. In the most developed countries people aren’t literally starving or freezing to death. But they are being stressed out, alienated, frustrated, treated poorly, manipulated by advertisement and getting stuck in destructive social relationships. Increasing people’s incomes and consumption can be a way of remedying these maladies, but it is far from the only way. And a too strong focus on material wealth does not only blind us to other means of improving people’s lives; it also perpetuates an overall system of production and consumption that is not ecologically sustainable.

So here are some distinctions between the economic perspectives of the Old Left and the Alt-Left, respectively:

Alt-Left economy

“Because it has this transformative view of economy, culture and society the Alt-Left is the most radical of the current political positions; more radical, I would argue, than anarcho-communism.”

Of course, there is more to unpack here than we can manage in one post, but let’s do a quick tour.

The first point is that the Alt-Left is generally critical of labor. Far from all work is good work. There is really no reason to romanticize people’s work. Often a person can do more good for the world by staying home from work, consuming less, staying healthy and nurturing her relationships than through her active participation in the labor market. A lot of the work, while providing an income, may in fact do more damage than good on a systemic level. Let’s say one person works in the meat industry and another is unemployed but is a socially engaged vegan. Which one creates most utility, seen in a systemic perspective? The meat industry of course tortures and exploits animals, but it also contributes to food resources being used inefficiently (you have to feed the animals with crops, you know), it is highly detrimental to the environment and contributes to a wide range of health problems. At a surface level, it looks as though the employed citizen is doing good for the economy and the unemployed vegan bum is not. But if you look at the overall value added, the relation is in fact the opposite. Or what about a politician who works really hard, but generally defends regressive and unproductive ideas? Or a slick advertisement professional who plays on people’s insecurities and desires? Or just a telephone salesman? All of these arguably do greater harm than the beggar on the corner. Even if these may all be good people who, at an individual level, live okay lives, they may all be doing more harm than good at a systemic level.

So we may have to shed our loyalty to “labor”, and start looking at how labor – and all human activity, economic or otherwise – can be developed: in terms of consumption, production, transport and distribution.

This leads us to a more behavioral, cultural and psychological view of humans and our participation in the economy. Can we have greater psychological comfort and thereby have less urge to splurge on clothes and cars? Can we buy more services and less goods? Can we be brought to think more critically about what our businesses do in the world? What our public services do? These are issues of cultural and psychological development. For instance, meditation may seem like a waste of time and good GDP; but if it contributes to fulfilling human needs in a more efficient manner, is it not a net gain? This is where the concept of the “Economy of Happiness” comes in; what may seem like a loss to the material economy may well turn out to be a net gain in the “Economy of Happiness”, i.e. that the distribution of people’s life experience is improved.

The “Economy of Happiness” creates the greatest justification for “The Listening Society”. Whereas the Old Left successfully created the welfare state it has not produced a new, corresponding, project for the increase of security and wellbeing in the general population in a postindustrial, digitalized and global setting. The Listening Society, which you can read about in my upcoming book with the same title, is a more complex form of welfare which deliberately seeks to improve the mental health and inner wellbeing of all citizens. This may include such services as psychological support, training in emotional intelligence at schools, paid sabbaticals for the 40-year crisis, active development of organizations and leadership, curbing of excessive advertisement and so forth. Say what you will, these are not “centrist” positions; they are Alt-Left positions.

We should strive for an economy in which rational, long-term human activities are promoted and generated. And this may well require people to divide their time and attention in manners that don’t fit very well into the categories of the conventional labor market and economy. This is one reason that we should, in the long run, seek to lower – or even remove – taxes on labor and move them to consumption, ownership, rents, transactions and use of natural resources. People should pay not for working but for using finite resources and for having privileged positions of power in the economy.

All of this goes against the vested interests not only of powerful agents in the world economy, such as large corporations, but also – and more controversially – against the generally perceived interests of the middle class itself. So it’s not only the working class that is betrayed, but also the middle class. The Alt-Left is the enemy of the middle class.

Finally the Alt-Left must be based upon world-centric values. The Old Left has unfortunately been bogged down by the confines of the nation state, and often explicitly puts the interests of the local working class over the equally real interest of the world’s bottom billion (people living in abject poverty). From a world-centric perspective this can only be seen as unethical. Hence, the Alt-Left must sometimes go against the interests of the large groups in rich countries in order to create a more equitable global economy. This means, for instance, that consumer goods may become less cheap in Walmart, but be produced under less appalling circumstances; that we may have to pay for recycling our own computers rather than leaving it to children in Ghana, and so forth.

Because it has this transformative view of economy, culture and society the Alt-Left is the most radical of the current political positions; more radical, I would argue, than anarcho-communism.

The next post in this series will investigate the Alt-Left’s stance on culture and politics. Stay tuned!

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.


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12 thoughts on “Alt-Left Stance on Economy

  1. Et tankevækkende eksempel på venstrefløjens problem i dag: en rodet og usammenhængende analyse som ikke giver nogle brugbare løsninger, skrevet i et sprog som til tider er svært at forstå.

    1. Hello Rolf, I gather you feel there are no solutions presented in this post. I would respectfully disagree – there is a number of proposals, even if they are only mentioned briefly. For more details on these, you are welcome to consult my books.

      1. I don’t know about in Europe but in the US the groups classified as alt-left would not advocate mass starvation or homelessness that comes with even a slight abandonment of those groups. I don’t know what life is like in Europe but in the US if you make under 50k/year you are never more than one paycheck from living on the streets. I myself have spent plenty of time not eating as a Mechanical Engineer that is employed because I could not afford food.

        Now of course you propose and advocate long term solutions, but the hostility to the working/middle class not just directly but in certain terms is not in line with any experience or such that makes any kind of sense.

        I also want to question your economics. Why have a consumption tax when it is the least economically efficient and given that taxes exist to create demand for currency (as Modern Monetary Theory explains quite well), and for various externalities such as land value tax to cover the privileges conferred under land titles, which you acknowledge. You also seem to be under the impression that local wages are relevant across currency exchanges, but currency exchanges left unmanipulated by major powers generally focus on other marginal advantages than wages, as a fair currency market equalizes local wages to the same quality of life on both sides, any discrepancy would rapidly generate an equal and opposite action in the currency exchange.

        Much of the alt left I’ve seen, and which I personally advocate, is less invasive government systems for tax, regulation, and welfare, to be more broad and market shaping and less invasive to people’s liberties, Land Value Tax, proper MMT, and automatic stabilizers are enough in one respect, but the long vision you advocate sounds too much like a micromanaged utopic failure that has historically been the standard for so long.

  2. Many wonderful ideals, and ideas, some more workable than others, but all hampered by the same idealism that drove Libertarianism. “Why doesn’t everyone just think like us?” The ideals of the Alt-Left luxuries that most of the world cannot afford.
    The Old-Left may have had its fault(many!) but it existed as a foil to the right. Something the Alt-Left has failed to do.

  3. I agree with that old-left has been very unsuccessful when it comes to creating alternatives to capitalism. But where are the alt-left one? I agree to all “alt-left economic stances”, but what structure will see to that they happened? How could they ever emerge within current economic system? Which parliament in the world is independent enough from corporate pressure, to actually change any important rules? And if they were, how well do corporations follow current legislations? Why do corporates get away with the constant enormous tax swindles? Why do parliaments “rescue” banks? How much power do parliaments have against corporations and banks? We don’t need to overthrow capitalism. It’s already collapsing. We need to think of how to organize allocation of resources in new ways, now when capitalism gets increasingly dysfunctional and insane. It has already gone far in Greece, Spain and Italy, despite their membership in the rich club in the world.

    1. I can’t see the collapse of capitalizm. All I can see is that it is growing stronger and stronger each year.

      When it comes to Greece it’s collapse is not rooted in capitalizm but in government intervention, which is what the left is trying to enforce.

      When it comes to banks, corporations etc. they are also growing with the help of governments as the only difference between goverment and corporations is that the latter can’t take a cent from my pocket unless I willingly give it to them. Because of that corporations are looking for my “cent” in the hands of governments, and they easily find it there.

  4. In short term those groups that still gain of capitalism (when it comes to accumulate more capital) is strengthening their grip on society. The far right is winning big at the moment, and the old left is not promoting anything substantial that is trustworthy. That does not mean that capitalism is sustainable at all. The reason that capitalism is falling apart even in bargaining Europe, is because resources in nature is getting scarce.

  5. I have long argued this emphasis on jobs is wrong. Someone out of work may be contributing more to society, than someone in a job that is damaging society. And not in formal paid work does not mean they have idle hands.

    Many jobs are bullshit jobs.

    Do we really need someone who spends all day making nuisance phone calls to sell us something we do not want, that damages the planet?

    Is it good when more cars are sold, when consumer spending increases, buying more junk that then ends up as non-recyclable rubbish? And when this spending is financed by debt not earnt income?

    The crunch will come when nearly half of all jobs are replaced by robots.

    This we should welcome, unless we wish to see people engaged in precarious soul destroying McShit jobs, just so we can say they have work.

    Are they to starve? Are they to be bastardised at Job Centres for not searching for non-existent work?

    We need, not a Basic Income, but a Universal Dividend as proposed by Yanis Varoufaikis and DiEM25.

    We need a Green New Deal. To invest in an infrastructure that will create a better low carbon world.

    And incidentally, I see no mention of the environment, no mention of climate.

    We should put out of business companies like Uber and Deliveroo, serfs working for an app, a return to medieval feudalism.

    We have to deal with tax dodging on an industrial scale.

    For the future, collaborate commons, open coops.

    The collaborative commons are a direct threat to the neo-liberal agenda, people able to cooperatively satisfy their own needs, no requirement for formal paid employment.

  6. The solution is not a job.

    Job creation for what?

    What drives this is an age old misconception that idle hands leads to the Devil’s work.

    Do we want jobs where groundwater is being polluted by open cast mining?

    Do we want jobs where people are churning out worthless consumer junk, together with parallel bullshit jobs where people are employed to con other people they must consume this worthless consumer junk, their lives are meaningless if they do not?

    Do we want jobs where we have serfs working for apps, eg Uber and Deliveroo.

    Do we want jobs where people are working in precarious employment, often at less than the minimum wage, soul destroying, mindless McShit jobs?

    The only reason people are in these jobs, as discussed in Sacred Economics, forced to work for a living, not doing what they really wish to do.

    The majority of people are in jobs they hate and yet at the same time they are in daily fear of losing their jobs.

    Sports Direct and other companies, the working conditions are that of a a prison.

    And it is all seen as great as GDP is rising, a completely worthless indicator of anything.

    In other words creating jobs for the sake of creating jobs, without questioning why, what are we actually achieving?

    And the main reason for the job creation, is in order they have the money to consume the junk the worthless jobs are churning out.

    If it was concern for the lives of the people, it would be how can we meaningfully occupy their lives?

    And all somewhat academic, when many of these jobs are going to be replaced by robots.

  7. “We have already stated that this entails a “betrayal of the working class” … Basically it means that the Alt-Left loosens its ties to the worker movements and the interests of labor (higher wages, safer employment, benefits, consumption and so on).”

    This position was already highly prevalent among the 60s New Left, and it is also the basis of Hillary Clinton’s whole “New Democrat” politics.

    No offense my dear liberals, but we have already been stabbed in the back by you and your ilk many, many times.

    Get in line…

  8. “Many of the problems that come from poverty and economic precariousness are – upon closer inspection – in fact social and psychological problems.”

    So the reaction of the working class to the deliberate wholesale destruction of their communities and entire way of life is just an unfortunate mental disease? Tell that to someone living like a third world refugee in the wreckage of Detroit, and see what kind of a reaction you get.