Tag Archives: Paul Krugman

Telling It Like It REALLY Is

Paul Krugman, who never shies away from telling it like it really is, has summed up the “conservatism” of today’s GOP in the first paragraphs of a recent column:

News item #1: The Trump administration is taking thousands of children away from their parents, and putting them in cages.

News item #2: House Republicans have released a budget plan that would follow up last year’s big tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy with huge funding cuts for Medicare and Medicaid.

If you think these items are unrelated, you’ve missed the whole story of modern American politics. Conservatism – the actually existing conservative movement, as opposed to the philosophical stance whose constituency is maybe five pundits on major op-ed pages — is all about a coalition between racists and plutocrats. It’s about people who want to do (2) empowering people who want to do (1), and vice versa.

For a long time–especially when I was still a Republican–I was sure that the two wings of the GOP were headed for a split. The genuine fiscal conservatives I knew–people who defined fiscal conservatism as economic prudence and “pay as you go,” not as favoring the wealthy at the expense of the poor–were as appalled as I was by the hypocritical piety of the self-identified “Christian” wing, which even then was willing to turn a blind eye to very unChristian behavior so long as it cemented their privileged status and their right to impose their beliefs on everyone else.

I utterly failed to realize what Krugman points out: once you separate genuine fiscal conservatives from apologists for the greedy, and once you rip off the false facade of “policy differences” from the racists, the two wings actually complement each other.  Genuine fiscal conservatives departed the GOP some time ago; Trumpism has removed the facade from racism.

Until Trump, the ugliness of this deal was cloaked in euphemisms. As Lee Atwater famously put it,

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.

But the reality was always there. The conservative economic agenda has never been popular, and it is objectively against the interests of working class voters, whatever their race. In fact, whites without a college degree are the biggest beneficiaries of the social safety net. Nonetheless, these voters supported the GOP because it spoke to their racial animosity.

For a while, what Krugman calls “this bait-and-switch” worked; racism was used to motivate the base, but once elections were over, it was mostly shoved back in the closet. As he notes, however, that tactic was ultimately unsustainable. “Sooner or later the people who voted for white dominance at their own economic expense were going to find a champion who would deliver on their side of the bargain.”

Now, many in the plutocrat wing of the GOP seem to be genuinely dismayed by where this is going. They aren’t themselves racists, or at least they aren’t crude racists. But so far they’ve been unwilling to go beyond hand-wringing. Remember, just two Republican senators could stop all of this by saying that they’ll refuse to support Trump judicial appointments and legislation until the cruelty stops; they could bring all the evil to a dead halt by threatening to caucus with Democrats. But not one has stepped forward – because taking such a step would endanger conservative economic policies, and those are evidently more important than human rights.

When members of the “plutocratic wing” decry child separation at the nation’s border, when they join the rest of us by protesting that “this isn’t who we are,” it’s hard to argue with Krugman’s response:

It is who you are: you made a deal with the devil, empowering racism and cruelty so you could get deregulation and tax cuts. Now the devil is having his due, and you must share the blame.

I was wrong to see the two wings of the Republican Party as incompatible. They’re locked into their very own Faustian bargain, and unless and until American voters demand payment, they will both continue getting the benefit of that bargain.

The Looters Have Arrived

Wednesday, I posted about the “partnership” approach Trump proposes to take to infrastructure repair.

Paul Krugman had a recent description of that plan, which he concludes is not about public investment, but about ripping off taxpayers.

Trumpists are touting the idea of a big infrastructure build, and some Democrats are making conciliatory noises about working with the new regime on that front. But remember who you’re dealing with: if you invest anything with this guy, be it money or reputation, you are at great risk of being scammed.

So, what do we know about the Trump infrastructure plan, such as it is? Crucially, it’s not a plan to borrow $1 trillion and spend it on much-needed projects — which would be the straightforward, obvious thing to do. It is, instead, supposed to involve having private investors do the work both of raising money and building the projects — with the aid of a huge tax credit that gives them back 82 percent of the equity they put in. To compensate for the small sliver of additional equity and the interest on their borrowing, the private investors then have to somehow make profits on the assets they end up owning.

The description of this rip-off reminded me rather forcefully of the “looters” described by Ayn Rand in  Atlas Shrugged.

I have frequently been bemused by the actions of politicians and others who claim to have been influenced by Rand’s philosophy (and who all seem to see themselves as one of her protagonists. Remember those “I am John Galt” bumper stickers?) I particularly recall an Indiana agency head during the Daniels administration who made all his employees read the “two most important books”–Atlas Shrugged and–wait for it– the bible.

Rand, of course, was a very outspoken atheist who insisted that her philosophy was an explicit rejection–and antithesis– of Christianity.

Then we have Paul Ryan, another Rand fan, who is intent upon keeping Americans from becoming dependent on such “giveaways” as health care (and who was able to go to college after his father’s death thanks to Social Security).  I wonder if he will see the parallels between an infrastructure scheme that will enrich crony capitalists and Rand’s withering description of the morally indefensible “looters” who used government to enrich themselves at the expense of the truly productive  (Rand’s version of the “makers and takers” worldview).

Ayn Rand had an excuse for her extreme worldview; she was a product of  Soviet collectivism, and saw first-hand the danger that such a system posed to human diversity and individual excellence. What she failed to see was the equivalent danger posed by a society that defines success solely as the attainment of wealth, however acquired, and encourages contempt rather than compassion for the weak and powerless.

The latter society is the one that produced Donald Trump, who is already promising to be looter-in-chief.

It’s Not Politics: It’s Morality

Jennifer Rubin is a conservative columnist for the Washington Post. Her column on July 31st was a scathing analysis of Donald Trump and the political and moral challenge his candidacy poses to the GOP.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and vice-presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana (R) knew what they were getting into when they climbed aboard the Donald Trump bandwagon. They had watched him insult minorities, POWs, the disabled and women. They had seen for themselves how utterly ignorant he was about basic policy concepts. They knew he lied about big and small things (e.g., falsely saying he opposed the Iraq War, reneging on charity pledges until shamed by The Post). They knew he’d stiffed and swindled Trump U students. They never should have backed him; they were abetting a vile individual attaining the country’s most powerful office, for which he was patently unfit. Pence went a step further in agreeing to be his running mate, and now travels around the country cheerleading for Trump.

Rubin recounted the now-ubiquitous details of Trump’s attack on the Kahns–a Muslim Gold Star family–and notes in passing that it would be political karma if, after smearing all Muslims, his attack on these particular Muslims was the “bridge too far” that ultimately brought him down.

Rubin’s column wasn’t written to add to the mounting recognition of the danger Trump poses for America, however. It was a challenge to the Republicans who continue to support and enable him.

What does Pence, father of  Marine 2nd Lt. Michael J. Pence, do? He directs the press wanting comment to Trump. Really, that’s it? One wonders how 2nd Lt. Pence — and all the other Americans risking their lives — feel about that. Pence’s silence and continued presence on the ticket suggest he considers Trump within the bounds of normal political discourse. If Pence had a modicum of dignity or decency, he would tell the American people, “I made a terrible mistake. Mr Trump is so morally bankrupt and of such shabby character that I could not possibly serve with him.” Failing to do so, the same should be said of Pence….

The offices of Ryan and McConnell wouldn’t comment on Trump’s slur against Ghazala Khan or ludicrous claim he’s “sacrificed” just as the Khans have. Their spokesmen would only repeat the bosses’ prior remarks on Trump’s Muslim stances. That’s not the point. They know this but they are abdicating moral leadership because they cannot possibly justify their support of Trump. In their silence, they condone Trump and stand with him.

Rubin is unimpressed with the excuse that other Republican candidates find themselves in a difficult bind, unwilling to incur the hostility of Trump’s supporters by distancing themselves from his repugnant accusations.

Republicans who fell in line behind Trump cannot escape the moral stench he emits. He disrespects parents of a fallen warrior; they do as well with their silence. He attacks other Americans, lies habitually and embodies none of the qualities we expect of elected leaders; they demonstrate moral and political cowardice in refusing to condemn him.

At the end of the day, Rubin–and the many other Republicans who have publicly refused to support the GOP nominee–is making a moral argument. For moral individuals, love of country, concern for civility and fair play, and simple intellectual honesty should take precedence over partisan loyalty.

Paul Krugman recently made the same point.

The real sinners here are Republican leaders — people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell — who are actively supporting a candidate whom they know poses a danger to the nation. It’s not hard to see why they’re doing this. Opposing their party’s nominee, no matter how awful he is, would probably end up being a career killer.

But there are times when you’re supposed to put such considerations aside. The willingness of some people who know better to support Donald Trump is understandable; it’s also despicable.

And these columns were written before Trump suggested that “2nd Amendment people” could “take care” of Hillary.

The Perils of “Balance”

I love Paul Krugman. Unlike most economists (apologies to certain of my academic colleagues), he writes clearly–as if he is actually interested in communicating, rather than impressing–and more often than not, he hits that proverbial nail squarely on the head.

Even for Krugman, though, “The Crazies and the Con Man” was exceptional. Krugman’s subject was the GOP effort to get Paul Ryan to accept the Speaker’s gavel. You really need to click through and read the entire column, but I’ll share a few of the gems:

What makes Mr. Ryan so special? The answer, basically, is that he’s the best con man they’ve got. His success in hoodwinking the news media and self-proclaimed centrists in general is the basis of his stature within his party. Unfortunately, at least from his point of view, it would be hard to sustain the con game from the speaker’s chair.

To understand Mr. Ryan’s role in our political-media ecosystem, you need to know two things. First, the modern Republican Party is a post-policy enterprise, which doesn’t do real solutions to real problems. Second, pundits and the news media really, really don’t want to face up to that awkward reality….

After offering several examples of the GOP’s lack of policy seriousness (where is that alternate health plan??), Krugman hones in on the real problem:

Most of the news media, and most pundits, still worship at the church of “balance.” They are committed to portraying the two big parties as equally reasonable. This creates a powerful demand for serious, honest Republicans who can be held up as proof that the party does too include reasonable people making useful proposals….

But Mr. Ryan has been very good at gaming the system, at producing glossy documents that look sophisticated if you don’t understand the issues…He is to fiscal policy what Carly Fiorina was to corporate management: brilliant at self-promotion, hopeless at actually doing the job. But his act has been good enough for media work.

Krugman attributes Ryan’s reluctance to take the Speaker position to a recognition that his  “con” wouldn’t survive the additional scrutiny.

Predictions aside, however, the Ryan phenomenon tells us a lot about what’s really happening in American politics. In brief, crazies have taken over the Republican Party, but the media don’t want to recognize this reality. The combination of these two facts has created an opportunity, indeed a need, for political con men. And Mr. Ryan has risen to the challenge.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but this analysis–like so many others–points to the  American media’s major contribution to the cluster-f**k that is our current national legislative branch. Until the media and those of us who depend upon it for essential information understand and appreciate the difference between balance and accuracy, we will continue to be disappointed by con men.

And wonder why our government doesn’t work anymore.

 

Dehumanizing the Poor

Paul Krugman can generally be counted upon to tell it like it is, and yesterday’s column in the New York Times was no exception. In the first couple of paragraphs, he used the recent upheaval in Hong Kong as an example of the disdain with which affluent folks in developed countries regard the working poor, and quoted Leung Chun-ying, the Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong, who inadvertently blurted out the real reason the regime is resisting giving pro-democracy demonstrators a voice:

With open voting, “You would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month. Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies” — policies, presumably, that would make the rich less rich and provide more aid to those with lower incomes.

So Mr. Leung is worried about the 50 percent of Hong Kong’s population that, he believes, would vote for bad policies because they don’t make enough money. This may sound like the 47 percent of Americans who Mitt Romney said would vote against him because they don’t pay income taxes and, therefore, don’t take responsibility for themselves, or the 60 percent that Representative Paul Ryan argued pose a danger because they are “takers,” getting more from the government than they pay in. Indeed, these are all basically the same thing.

For the political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy. No matter how well conservatives do in elections, no matter how thoroughly free-market ideology dominates discourse, there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy.

As Krugman notes, this attitude is anything but new. If there is a staple of human politics, it is the tendency to demonize the “other.” Gays, Jews, African-Americans, Muslims, non-Ayrans– the identity of the marginalized may change, but the political and psychological need to draw a distinction between those who are righteous and “deserving” and those who are not seemingly remains constant.

These days, demonizing racial or religious minority groups is publicly frowned upon (although privately indulged), but blaming the poor for their poverty is seen as analysis rather than bigotry.

It’s bad enough that this moral opprobrium prevents us from implementing ameliorative economic policies, but it also retards our efforts to fix public education.

On Thursday, the Mind Trust and the United Negro College Fund hosted a lunch. The keynote speaker was one Roland Fryer. He was brilliant. Fryer–the youngest African-American ever tenured at Harvard–is an economist who studies education, and he reported the results of a large-scale experiment he and others recently conducted in Houston and Denver.  (I’m told his entertaining and informative speech will be shown on Channel 16, and for those who missed it, it would be well worth watching.)

Fryer made a number of important points, but the basic message was simple and profound: poor children–including poor black children–are every bit as capable of learning as their more affluent peers. (Fryer himself grew up in a poor neighborhood in Houston; he never knew his mother and his father was imprisoned.) When poor kids are given good teachers, when their schools support those teachers appropriately, and when the teachers expect those children to learn and excel, performance improves dramatically.

If we want to live in a society where the gulf between the haves and have-nots is deep, where resentments fester and plutocrats retreat ever farther into their gated communities–if we want to inhabit a society focused upon what divides us rather than what we have in common–we just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing.