There's a new spending cap on the ballot in California. If it wins, it will limit budgets to a permanent too-low level until repealed. If this passes, California will not be able to pay its teachers, police, and firemen. (Oh, wait--it can borrow money to pay its teachers, thanks to an earmark.) Or maintain its roads and water system. It will be like a country under an embargo. Riots seem possible.
But then, riots may be what is needed to persuade the Senate conservatives to vote for the needed economic measures. It seems plain that these people's sense of entitlement will protect them from any real response to their constituents. So far the various treasuries and central banks are not doing enough. Of the US Treasury Paul Krugman writes:
And the insistence on offering the same plan over and over again, with only cosmetic changes, is itself deeply disturbing. Does Treasury not realize that all these proposals amount to the same thing? Or does it realize that, but hope that the rest of us won’t notice? That is, are they stupid, or do they think we’re stupid?Prof, it's a lot worse than that. We don't exist to them. Lawrence Summers is so devoid of empathy he lost the presidency of Harvard by insulting the intelligence and competence of more than half the human race. Their fellow senior bankers, the people they meet at the country club, their friends and social circle--these are real to them, and the men more than the women. (And Jewish boys from Long Island who grew up reading history and science fiction and go on to win Nobel prizes in economics definitely don't exist.) The whole rest of the world just doesn't register. They are like blocks at the top of the pyramid, proclaiming that they are self-supporting.
I don't believe these people are in any meaningful sense reachable. It's just possible that Obama will persuade them to try something different but more likely that change will only come after disaster on the national scale. Remember that nothing has dented the conservative coalition in the Senate: not losing a war, not the collapse of the economy, not the dismal failure of response to Katrina. They are convinced that their personal power trumps reality, and their social circle supports them in this belief. I do not think the people in charge of Treasury [and the Federal Reserve are] is so very different. [2009.03.21: But it turns out that I was wrong about the Fed; the head of the St. Louis Fed agrees with Krugman.] But change is coming.
What, therefore, is the role of intelligent and informed people--intellectuals--in this time? (Our role, of course, is whatever we choose, and whatever we can do.) But what might we choose that role be if we want to come through the onrushing disaster not completely impoverished and contribute to setting the USA straight?