Saturday, May 25, 2013

Paul Krugman et al Support My View -- by Accident

Update. The point of this post and recent other ones is not simply to bash conservatives. It's to examine and then explain why they're bringing nothing to the table. Once that fact is clear, at least we know -- those of us who hope for progress in solving societal challenges -- what we're up against and in which direction solutions might lie.

Paul Krugman, Jonathan Chait, and Mike Konczal write various articles or posts today that support my previous post -- coincidentally, of course, because they don't know me (I did meet and spend a little time with Paul Krugman seven years ago, though he probably remembers me about as well as he does a C student, say, from seven years ago).

It is, though, heartening to see important figures centering in on a point I find important, which is that rhetoric is meaningless if there is no policy position, commitment, or implication for the real world, and if there is, then there's no value if that implication is largely negative, solving no problem whatsoever.

Krugman makes the point that faux-reformists among conservative pundits contribute nothing of actual substance:
So? You could, as I said, take the “liberal” position on each of these issues while still being conservative in the sense that you want a smaller government. But what the “reformish” conservatives Ryan Cooper lists do, in almost all cases, is either (a) to follow the party line on these issues or (b) to hint at some flexibility – and thereby cultivate an image of being open-minded — as long as the issues don’t get close to an actual policy decision, but to always find a way to support the Republican position whenever it actually matters.
But aren’t there people like Bruce Bartlett or Josh Barro who really do break with the party line on some or all of these issues? Yes, but they are then immediately branded as “no longer conservatives”, in a sort of inverted version of the none-dare-call-it-treason effect.
The point is that there remains essentially no room for independent thinking within the conservative movement.
Could you say the same thing about liberals? I don’t think so. A few decades ago, you might have been able to draw up a somewhat similar list for the other side, involving things like the superiority of tradeable emission permits to command-and-control pollution regulation, the general undesirability of rent control, the benefits of airline deregulation, the absence of a usable long-run tradeoff between unemployment and inflation (and hence the impossibility of setting a 4 percent target for unemployment). But many liberals eventually conceded the point in each of these cases (maybe even conceded too far in a couple), without being declared no longer liberal. The point is that being a good liberal doesn’t require that you believe, or pretend to believe, lots of things that almost certainly aren’t true; being a good conservative does.
What Krugman elucidates here is that rhetoric is regularly often just that, rhetoric, and it serves no purpose if it only hints at policy implications with the proviso that we're outa here if there's a chance at anything coming to fruition. An that leaves consevative pundits and politicians offering American society a rather thin gruel indeed. The opposite is true within liberal or Democratic circles because multiple differing solutions are offered with the intent of having the best one adopted. The left can disagree but yearn for, and given a chance actually pursue, a real solution.

Not so within today's conservative ranks.

Jonathan Chait, while discussing the real cross-over of Bloomberg columnist Josh Barro, makes a clear case for why conservatives and the current Republican Party are in no position to "reform" themselves and thus become relevant:
This is the threshold Barro crossed [when he went up against the Republican Party after Romney's defeat]. The trouble, he wrote on November 14, “is not simply that Republicans lack the imagination to come up with ideas to get higher wages, more jobs and affordable health care to the middle class. It is that there is no set of policies that is both acceptable to conservatives and likely to achieve these goals.” The GOP’s choice to advocate low taxes for the rich rather than fund any kind of scheme to provide health care for the uninsured was no mere oversight, but a conscious decision, he later wrote—one that inevitably followed from the party’s dogmatic attachment to market outcomes and the dictates of its donor base. “The pro–middle class conservative project,” he pronounced, “is doomed.”
Ouch. Bobby Jindal, Mario Rubio, and the pathetic Reince Priebus notwithsatnding, reform will not happen when the likes of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee are lurking around the Senate floor ready to throw bombs at anyone even hinting at compromise.

Mike Konczal's contribution on these points:
I’d emphasize one last thing about the policy of conservative reformers: in practice it will likely be more gestural than substantive. I don’t know enough to mediate the health care battles, but I do know financial reform pretty well. And as financial reform is often brought out as an example of new reformers at work, it’s interesting to watch the lack of attention reformers pay to the actual nuts and bolts of the process.
I don’t see reformers call for getting the head of the CFPB [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] appointed. I don’t see them arguing that repealing FDIC’s new resolution authority powers should be taken out of the Ryan Budget. I don’t see them arguing that efforts to repeal derivatives regulations already are premature or bad policy. I don’t see them angry about the mess of the securitization servicing system, which is creating a nightmare of law-breaking in the housing market. I also don’t seem them arguing the opposite either.
It’s focused on “break up the banks!” Crucially, this gets its energy from the idea that We Should Do Something Big about financial reform, rather than how it plays into a larger set of regulations, laws, and markets. It’s to position the Republicans as Doing Something where the Democrats haven’t. It’s sadly less policy and more political strategizing.
Spot on. And if you want to see why nothing of substance resembling a solution is likely to emerge from Republican circles, cast your eye at this debacle:

Good luck finding consensus, Republicans.


  1. Hey there - can you throw some links to your previous posts on the matter that line up with the posts you link to? Would love to check them out. (Not sure where to start on a new site these days.) Either in the comments or the update would be great.

    1. Thanks for the interest. My previous two or three posts examined the reality behind conservative rhetoric (since that's all we get from them these days). Some of it is navel-gazing, I admit, but I like to examine why people in the public sphere do what they do, Atrios-style but less pithy. Links:

      The last two I send with some trepidation because all I know about econ is what I read on the blogs(!), including yours, and I tend to over-simplify. As a former tech columnist and teacher, I'm motivated to help the average Joe understand stuff. Plus I'm sure I make boneheaded econ mistakes. I do the best I can.

      Hope this helps.