Monday, May 30, 2011

To Jared Berstein, on shoulds and coulds

Jared Bernstein writes:
Especially re the WPA-idea, this got me thinking about the relative value of important voices like Paul’s promoting what we should do right now as opposed to what, given political constraints, we could do. And I think now is a good time to emphasize the latter.
My reply in comments, slightly edited, which I record here, since I doubt this will clear moderation.

What coulds?

You did all you could, or at least you say you did. It wasn't anything near enough. Maybe the administration did do all that it could. The administration and the Democrats now own the new depression and as far as I can tell, it's going to last for ten years.

A 30-year propaganda campaign created the Tea Party Republicans. They were not born from one mortgage modification. They started as a tiny group of radicals given a megaphone by the Koch Brothers and the DeVos family, and perhaps a few other wealthy family groups. That opposition network, ALEC, the State Policy Network, and perhaps other radical right organizations that I don't yet know the names of, will oppose anything that will bring a real improvement. Their Supreme Court judges--which your party allowed to be confirmed--have allowed them even greater influence in the Citizens United decision.

So there's no sense appeasing them: they will try to shoot down anything that might make a real difference.

In the long term the demographics are changing. In the long term most of the financial fallen angels of the conservative movement will die, and their children will find other things to do with their vast ill-gotten wealth. About all that I can see to do now is to teach the truth and begin reforms that will lay the groundwork for new politics in the future. So Paul Krugman is on target: he is teaching. I do not know how he does it, how he keeps on going, day after day, as the developed world slides deeper and deeper into its self-imposed misery.

I am not a young bird. You and Paul Krugman are about my age. I expect we will all be old before we see any substantive positive changes.

Postscript: when a very young Paul Krugman dreamed of being Hari Seldon, I doubt that he considered that Seldon's vision of a falling empire, and of mitigating the fall, was one of centuries of heartbreak, though one with an ultimately positive outcome. Asimov, who created Seldon, never fully engaged the emotional impact of Seldon's vision. But heartbreak it was, and all Seldon could do was lessen the harm. There is perhaps some relevance to the current situation, here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Losing, LOSING, and Losing BAD: US Electoral Croak

Losing is getting a corporate-insurance health care system. LOSING is having Medicare dismantled. Losing BAD is what voting for third parties gets you in the current system--it actually works in favor of your enemies. (Exception: if the Republicans turn into a regional party, as seems likely, voting for a third party might work.) 

Paul Ryan: Outdoing the Left

It appears that Paul Ryan has succeeded in doing what the combined might (hah!) of the leftist media (hah!) could not: make a single-payer health care system popular in the USA.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Overlords of Our Democracy

[This comes from a series of comment responses I wrote over on Balloon Juice, where I realized that everyone in a discussion was more interested in rebutting a sharp criticism of Obama than engaging a policy issue. Which led to these remarks.]

Is not it possible to believe that Obama is wrong and doing a bad job in some policy areas, yet doing a good job in others, without hating America? Must all criticism of a sitting President be treated as lèse majesté? Following on that, this thought: if one treats all criticism of a ruler as a result of personal animosity, there is no need to engage the substance of any criticisms. This has been a feature of US political discourse since Nixon at least. I find it profoundly undemocratic, and wonder why it gets so little notice.

Apparently this is the political discourse of empire. We welcome the new overlords of our democracy! Oh, wait...

I wonder if Schlesinger wrote about this in The Imperial Presidency?

[edited 2011.05.28. Punctuation changed and a paragraph break removed. 2013.10.31, wandering thought at end removed.]

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Doug, over at Balloon Juice, on the Republican backing away from their Medicare proposal:
What we’ve got here is more than failure to communicate […] Doug Mataconis thinks that convincing the public to gut Medicare may be as simple as putting together a Draper-worthy PR blitz [...] It isn’t being done because it can’t be done. The Ryan plan wasn’t ineptitude with insufficient cover, it was a spectacularly slick roll out of a product that no one wants to buy. […]
But it’s not just Teh R’s—it’s a disease of US politics. Me, last November:
Faced with an election that is the crystallized result of essence of policy failure, Obama decides that he…sent the wrong message.
To win the first election you have to “message.” To win the next election you have to deliver. Obama didn’t deliver on jobs, housing, and banking, and it’s pretty hard to message that away. Now the Republicans are offering poison and calling it medicine, and it’s pretty hard to message that away, too.

(This, by the way, is part of why Krugman is so successful at prediction: he looks at things which can reliably be measured and relies on models measured against actual history—on scientific knowledge, in other words—and this takes him past the messaging.)

The overall disease is probably a result of Really Really Badly not wanting to face reality, on the part of the leadership of both parties. Neither party wants to alienate the wealthy and powerful, neither party wants to bell the Dragon (Chinese currency policy), neither party wants to take a strong environmentalist stance, neither party wants to tell the public they were wrong about economics for the past 30 years. So we get “messaging” instead.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On Keynes and Marx

Brad Delong is complaining about Marx, and defending Keynes from charges of being a central planning advocate again. I wrote two comments, and these seem to have merged into one thing. So far, Delong has not run them, and I don't know that he will--he only runs a few of my comments. So here they are.

"A somewhat comprehensive socialisation of investment" (as Keynes advocated, in his own words) is pretty damn socialist, really.  It strikes right to the heart of wealth and power, in arguing for democratic governance of the financial system.  But Keynes was not an advocate of minutely-detailed planning, no.  Is this unfair to the rich?  I suppose so.  But Keynes goes on to explore the alternatives and finds them wanting.

A Marxist might say that Marx's "dictatorship of the proletariat" would use Keynsianism.  Indeed, what else could it use?  But for Marxists a Keynsian system would be only a step on the way to a fully Communist system, which did not use money at all.

Delong: "[Marx] believes there's something wrong about credit."

He believed there was something wrong about money, at least if he held to the viewpoint expressed "The Power of Money" (1844.)  In TPOM Marx objected that money falsifies human relations, a point still worth attending to, but one difficult to erect an economics on.  To some extent it seems to me that, in that essay, Marx was objecting to the constraints of physicality and embodiment.

I think Delong was objecting that Marx had not read, or was not, Keynes.  But Keynes read Marx, not the other way around, and I do not see how it could have been otherwise. Is it not possible to regard Marx as an important and useful historical theorist or philosopher, without insisting that he was entirely right or entirely wrong?  A forerunner of a still-emerging social science, in the way that, perhaps, Copernicus was a forerunner of what has since become physics?  The Copernican system still used perfect circles and epicycles; it was not particularly useful for computation.  But by putting the Sun at the center, Copernicus made it possible for Kepler and then Newton to do their work. Marx put system at the center of economics, rather than the wealthy or powerful, and paved the way for thinking about economics without defining economics in terms of central figures or groups.  Which might put Keynes in the position of Kepler or Newton.  And, as with physics, economics advances, one tombstone at a time. It is only 65 years since Keynes death; only a few more years since his major works were published. That is not so very long for a revolution in thought.