Sunday, April 10, 2016

Paul Krugman becomes Very Serious

For more than ten years now I've been a reader of Paul Krugman's Blog, Conscience of a Liberal.  It was at first for that reason alone I subscribed to the electronic edition of the New York Times, when it became necessary, though later getting distraction from the extra features.

I've often had quibbles, especially in matters where he takes up his defense of something like mainstream economics, which he used to call Keynesian, now more honestly calling Hicksian.

But I though he had a voice worth listening to, even if generally more "centrist" (conservative) than me.  As an essentially conservative economist, it gave him some authority to defend and praise the Social Security program as it actually exists, and also the merit of Single Payer Healthcare and nationalized healthcare generally, the "Scandinavian" model of social democracy, and on and on, in ways fully rooted in standard conservative economics.  He has been very critical of globalization agreements, ,and has taken income inequality to heart.  He even wrote glowingly about Occupy Wall Street back in the day.  He's given out pointers to lefter critics of himself, including Yves Smith at NakedCapitalism who is often very very critical of Krugman.  So I think reading Krugman has been worthwhile.

I think he characterized the Presidential race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton reasonably fairly from evidence available at the time.  He claimed Hillary was the more progressive candidate, and serious about a national healthcare plan because hers included mandates which Obama's didn't.  Krugman correctly opined that this sort of regulated health insurance plan HAD to have mandates, and if it didn't it couldn't work.  Well of course the plan we got had mandates.  Anyway what Krugman claimed may have been correct about domestic policy.  Obama has been Very Serious, Very Consistently, falling into the trap of talking up federal debt when he should have been talking about unemployment and inequality.  His pick of Geithner was pure sell out to Wall Street.  Hillary might have been more flexible in domestic policy, maybe.  Where Hillary has distinguised herself however has been in unmitigaged hawkishness in foreign policy.  In that arena Obama has actually delivered a number of positive surprises along with the predictable mere continuation of what went before.  It's not clear that Hillary would have delivered the positive surprises.  So they're not fully one way or the other, but both reasonably well fit the profile of corporate Democrat, beholden primarily to the more liberal financial industry (it's oil and gas which owns Republicans), but nothing of an FDR at all, in fact part of the continuing move away from New Dealism which began under Jimmy Carter.

But now it seems to me that not only has he been shrill and unfair in his opinions about Bernie Sanders, he's almost made a parody of many previous articles, where he himself coined the term "Very Serious People" to refer to analysts who get caught up in the seriousness of things like public debt, deficit spending, and so on to justify austerity, missing the big picture that auterity is only going to make the debt and deficit worse in the long run.

He seems to be making that same kind of mistake in his criticisms of Bernie Sanders, losing sight of the big picture.  His technical criticisms of Sanders proposals are just that--technical.  Those same proposals have gotten technical defense by other economists of equal ability as Krugman.

But what Bernie's campaign is really about is not the technical details anyway, and Krugman, the Krugman I thought I knew, would have known this.  It's about who do you trust to do the right thing for the people.  On that the record is pretty clear, Bernie has consistently been on the people's side, whereas Hillary has always been on the side of an impossible neoliberalism: marketizing everything possible.

Paul Krugman himself has pointed out many times where Obama started the negotiation process by offering everything his opponents wanted, and then of course they want more.  One big failure of the Bill Clinton administration was that by balancing the budget, he made it possible for the next administration to give it all away as tax cuts.

Hillary's ideas aren't going to get through a Republican congress either.  But what we need is someone who will stick with what the people want--what the people need, and not sell out to corporate rentiers beforehand.

Which was, sadly, exactly what happened to Obamacare, as Obama leaned over to the conservative side on every occasion, rather than using his congressional majority to push through a more progressive plan having things like a Public Option.   Just before Obama gave a speech praising the possibilities of such a system including Public Option, his chief of staff Rahm Emmanueal had accepted a major campaign donation from a hospital association who had been told that that Public Option would not make it into the final plan.  After that, talk of Public Option vaporized.

Many years ago, Doonesbury's Slackmeyer's industrialist father explained why ethical principles were important.  "By insisting on ethical principles, you can get better deals that require you to give them up."

This brings up what Hillary says about influence.  Of curse when one has been as much in the thick of it as she has, she doesn't have to be influenced by anyone.  She knows what is expected of her and delivers, essentially Obama 3 and 4, as much neoliberalism as possible, more neocon if possible.  Defense of all the bogus "achievements" of Obama, Obamacare and the weak (if troublesome) financial services reform.  No re-opening of the opportunities available for those reform movements that were brushed aside by Obama.

There is zero question that Hillary Clinton is a corporate democrat, whose ideas mirror the corporate establishment well enough to justify the speech fees and campaign donations she gets.  (In the same club as Obama himself who was the biggest recipient of finance industry contributions in 2008.)

And that Bernie Sanders is not a corporate democrat, but basically a return to the New Deal tradition represented by JFK and FDR, the former who was famously critical of banks.

And Bernie is exactly what we need.  Paul Krugman must have developed temporary blindness not to see now.  It's a huge surprise to me to see a challenge to the corporatism of the Democratic Party to get this far, it's what we need desperately, it's what we've needed for a long time.  Someone who would negotiate for the people, not for the corporate interest first.

As long as both political parties are fully owned and operated by corporate sectors, it will be impossible to get laws that are actually in the public interest in any major way, but only half way measures such as Obamacare.

Sadly an early generation of political reforms didn't actually eliminate the undue influence of the wealthy, they merely systematized it.  Then even those reforms have fallen away.

But we won't get anywhere without candidates committed to campaign finance reform so much they practice it during their own election.  That is the only way it can start.

Update:  Wow.  The day after I canceled by Times Online subscription, Yves Smith reposted a hard hitting article on Paul Krugman by Gerald Epstein entitled "Paul Krugman Crosses the Line" which deconstructs his most recent Op Ed as being basically nonsense.  In the worthwhile discussion that follows, at least two other commenters have cancelled their Times subscription because of Krugman's recent sneering and shallow incorrect analysis of Bernie Sanders.  You'd have to guess however that most commenters, including Yves herself, have generally had a very dim view of Krugman for quite some time, though Yves chimes in to come to the defense of the previous behavior of Paul Krugman several times, including his 2008 actually calling for Citibank to be nationalized.  (I remember that, actually Krugman mainly praised the Swedish model of nationalization followed by re-privatization.)  Very qualified and trustworthy economists Stiglitz, Reich, and Hudson have denounced Krugman's reading of Sanders point-by-point and overall, and his defense of the biggest banks for a long time.  Actually Krugman's defense of big banking goes way back.  Perhaps no wonder he is the one chosen by the NYTimes, however I've long thought and even now that we were lucky to get someone to defend social democracy from a conservative economic point of view as skillfully and memorably as Paul Krugman, as well as ably piercing many movement conservative ideas.  But others, even those critical of Krugman for a long time, think he's really flipped now.

The whole Bernie Bro thing is itself a form of pseudo-feminist sneering lacking in perspective and evidence.  As if all people supporting Sanders were misogynist guys.  In actuality, many of the most outspoken supporters of Sanders are women, and Sanders has a majority of support among women less than 35 years old, just as he does among men.  This "BernieBro" accusation nonsense is explored in numerous worthwhile blogs, inlcuding Glenn Greenwald's.

Real radical feminists (and people of color) support Sanders because he is the best for women and everyone else, except in their sometimes limited imaginations the billionaire class.  And blacks, hispanics, of course, Sanders is best for all people, while Clinton has always been pushing the neoliberal and neoconservative projects, while playing special friend to most Democratic Party groups.

FAIR has also printed a debunking of the notion that Bernie is short on facts, which is the spin usually put on his interview with the New York Daily News.

Many observers had the opposite impression, that Bernie gave exactly the correct answers.  Such as in breaking up the big banks, letting the banks decide how to do it (as Bernie said) is exactly the correct answer.  The government doesn't know the best way to break up JP Morgan, but JP Morgan does.  Among the observers who felt that Bernie was giving the exact correct answers was Juan Gonzalez, who was one of the people interviewing Sanders for the paper.  (He wrote an article for the paper about it also.)

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