Sometimes a Great Ken Kesey

Ken KeseyOn this day in 1935, the great American novelist Ken Kesey was born. I really only know him from his two novels One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion. But he wrote more than this and I suppose I will have to go back and find what else he did. Certainly, those are two of the greatest American novels ever written. And he is probably the greatest writer of his generation, except for maybe Heller, but certainly not Salinger or Capote or Roth — as great as they may be.

There are generally two things that I think about with regard to Kesey’s work. First is his decision to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the first person. He could have written it in the third person and it probably would have worked well enough. But there would have been various problems. One is simply the way the plot is told. There would be no reason not to know far more of what’s going on outside the ward. But because Chief is thought to be mute, he is allowed limited access to staff meetings. But the most important aspect of the first person narrative is that the book is about Chief. One of the great disappointments in the film (as great as it is), is that we don’t get to see Chief’s evolution from mental illness to mental health.

The second thing about Kesey’s work is the way he shifts point of view in Sometimes a Great Notion. Basically, he does what Virginia Woolf’s does in To the Lighthouse. But Kesey is far more clear. Reading Woolf is like floating around at see, being pushed his way and that. It isn’t about the story but rather the journey. Kesey is interested in telling a story. And he has great insight into character that isn’t really true of the early stream of consciousness writers.

In 1989, Kesey wrote a novel collectively with 13 graduate students at the University of Oregon, Caverns. Three years later, he wrote his first novel in almost three decades, Sailor Song. And then he wrote a collaboration with Ken Babbs, Last Go Round. All of them sound interesting. I will have to see if I can dig them up. Until then…

Happy birthday Ken Kesey!

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The Saviour and the True Meaning of Love

The SaviourFollowing is the complete video of the 2005 short film, The Saviour. It is written and directed by Australian filmmaker Peter Templeman. And it is a good example of something I tell people all the time: short films are generally far better than feature films. I think there is a simple reason for this. Most feature films don’t have 90 minutes of content. They are padded. What’s more, feature films are expected to make money. So they are far more commodity than art. Short films are generally works of love and so are artful or at least reflect the filmmaker. And they are as long as they need to be. No one ever pads a ten minute film with five minutes of nonsense just to reach that magic 15 minute length.

The Saviour is a magical film. I suppose that everyone will see it in their own way and I highly recommend watching it before you read what I have to say. I don’t believe in “spoilers,” but The Saviour is the kind of film where you really ought to make up your own mind before allowing me to poison you. The basic story is that a young Christian missionary has had an affair with a married woman he is trying to convert. She has cut it off, and he is obsessed. He believes he will save her from what must be a bad marriage, given that she was willing to commit adultery with him.

So, have you watched it? It is 16 minutes of your life that you won’t regret.

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2014 Will Not Be a Wave Election, but Maybe 2016

Jeffrey LordIndirectly through Jonathan Bernstein, I came upon a jaw dropping article by Jeffrey Lord in The American Spectator, 2014: a Wave Election or an Earthquake? The article goes into some detail describing what the difference is between a “wave” election and an “earthquake” election. It doesn’t help that he seems to have made up the term “earthquake election.” But according to him, a wave election is when one party does really well but it is ephemeral. An earthquake election is where one party does really well and it represents a long lasting political realignment.

The problem with the article is the subtext. This conservative hack is certain that the Republicans will win big in November. Never mind that polls indicate that the Democrats just look stronger and stronger in the Senate and have always looked good in the governorship races. Lord just knows this is a big year for the Republicans.

He also doesn’t actually get the idea of a wave election right. Both 2008 and 2010 were wave elections because the prevailing political tide dragged along a lot of candidates who wouldn’t normally have been elected. Even if the Republicans do really well this year, it won’t be a wave. In the Senate, we are seeing the results of the Democrats’ 2008 wave. There are a lot of Democratic Senators up for re-election in states that are generally pretty hostile to Democrats. The fact that only one of the six main Senate election models give the Republicans an even modest advantage (Just 4 percentage points!) shows this is no kind of wave.

But Lord has a major ax to grind. He claims that the Republicans made major gains in 1994 because Clinton turned to the left. He also claims Carter (the proto-New Democrat who was really quite conservative) lost to Reagan because he was liberal and not because of the bad economy and the Iran hostage crisis. Clearly, Lord is one of the true believers who thinks that if only the Republicans ran the Platonic ideal of the pure conservative, they would win elections for the next century.

Similarly, he complains (This is unbelievable!) that Thad Cochran isn’t a real conservative because he voted to affirm Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court. He likens Ginsburg to Robert Bork. So okay, Jeffrey Lord is not just a conservative hack, he’s also an ignoramus. But he is entirely typical of the whole of the Republican Party. What we hear from him today goes right along with what we heard everywhere in 2012 about Mitt Romney winning the presidency. Remember Peggy Noonan’s belief that Romney was going to win because she was seeing more yard signs? That’s what’s going on here.

In Lord’s defense, he does write, “The GOP establishment panicking over re-electing Pat Roberts in red state Kansas is not a sign of an earthquake election — and maybe not even a wave election.” There are 33 Senate seats up for election this year. Of them, 21 are currently held by Democrats. The Republicans should easily be able to take the Senate. But there is a very good chance that they won’t even be able to do that. Regardless of what happens, 2014 will not be a wave election.

But if the economy keeps improving, 2016 will be a wave election. For the Democrats. And it might even be an earthquake.

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The Great White Party

White RepublicanYesterday, over at FiveThirtyEight, David Wasserman wrote, After The Midterms, The Diversity Gap in the House Will Be Wider Than Ever. The numbers are stark. In fact, it would not at all be incorrect to call the Republicans the White Man’s Party. I do a lot of work for a black Baptist church and it has a far larger white constituency than the Republican Party has women or minority groups.

The United States is 31% white male. But the Republicans in the House of Representatives are 89% white male. And the trend is in the wrong direction. It was only 86% before the 2012 election. And since then, it has gotten worse still. There have been six special elections when Republicans won and every one of them was a white male.

Compare this to the Democrats. After the 2012 election, of the 201 Democrats in the House, there were “61 women, 43 African-Americans and six LGBT members.” The Republicans have no openly gay members of the House. But to be fair, the Republican Party has always been a big supporter of self-hating closeted gay politicians. Oh, and in the two special elections since 2012, the Democrats have picked up two more women.

What this all makes me think of is William Buckley statement, “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop…” This is the basis of the Republican Party. Forget “freedom” and “responsibility.” This is all about the fact that white men have traditionally had ultimate power in this country. And they are afraid they are losing it. This is why they vilify the poor, because it is a way of arguing that white men deserve to be rich because they are better. The poor are over-represented by minority groups. This includes the LGBT community, who are poorer than their straight counterparts.

So a conservative really is someone who stands athwart equal opportunity, yelling stop! Worse than that. He doesn’t just yell stop. He uses the privilege that he has from centuries of repressing other groups to distort the system so that those who have been repressed continue to be repressed. At the same time, he yells, “It’s their own fault!” And he works the system he mostly controls to make sure that when he screws up, the government is there to bail him out. At the same time, he yells, “Food stamps are welfare that must be stopped!” And he congratulates himself on all his philanthropy, that mostly involves being a Job Creator™. At the same time, he yells, “If only there were no minimum wage, I’d hire more 8-year-olds to work in my business.”

Well America, what’s it gonna be? Are you going to continue to vote for politicians who not only don’t look like you, they don’t look after you? You might think that the country is badly in need of change. But these rich white Republicans don’t agree. They stand athwart your attempt to improve your life and yell, stop! And they have an army of lawyers, cops, and PR men to enforce their demand.

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The Basis of the NFL Is Violence

On Good Reasons for SuicideAs regular readers know, I hate football. I think it is the most boring game ever invented. The primary focus of the game is very big men running into each other. It has very little of the raw athletic beauty of basketball (which I also find tiresome) or the technical grace of baseball (which I must admit to having a great fondness for). But the recent NFL scandals really have gotten my attention and they’ve made me really angry. But I’m not angry in the way you may assume.

I just do not care. Why is anyone surprised that a bunch of steroid cases playing a game that is modeled on old-style symmetric warfare would produce a bunch of violent men? The game itself appeals to the worst instincts in men. It is one big orgy of testosterone. While the rich have made a fetish of greed, the rest of our society has made a fetish of violence.

What angers me is that this is not the problem of the NFL. This is the problem of the people who watch the NFL. The NFL is approaching the problem the same way that any business would. The new domestic abuse guidelines are a farce, meant to tell the nation that everything’s okay; they have it handled. They take domestic abuse seriously! Of course, they don’t. They take the bad PR of domestic abuse seriously. I’m sure they realize that for a lot of viewers, the fact that players act like animals off the field as well as on only makes the game more exciting. It makes it more real. This is not professional wrestling!

The whole thing reminds me of racism in America. We are a deeply racist country, but we spend most of our time pretending that we aren’t. And then, when some comedian uses the n-word, everyone is outraged. I maintain that this outrage has nothing to do with the word. The outrage is about the fact that someone screwed up and made us admit that, yes, there is racism. But using the n-word is one of the most benign forms of racism. I don’t think Michael Richards was necessarily any more racist than I am. It’s our hidden assumptions about different people that most harm society.

Similarly, with the NFL we glorify violence. But as a society we pretend that it doesn’t mean anything else. It is compartmentalized. The billions we pay to owners and the millions we pay to players of this violent game are not supposed to be about anything but the game — it isn’t about violence! But obviously, the people who play this game well are going to be more testosterone fueled and more violent than the average person. In the eight years that Roger Goodell has been head of the NFL, there have been 56 domestic abuse allegations — that’s seven per year. And I’m sure that is just a small percentage of what’s really going on.

I admit it: I don’t like football. I’d love for it to go away so that people could spend their time in more edifying ways. But I don’t see how anyone can watch the NFL and not acknowledge that an automatic part of that is that women and children will be brutalized off the field. And it isn’t just the players who are doing the violence. Five years ago, a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that watching football increased domestic violence. According to an article on it in Slate, “Based on domestic violence police reports from the years 1995-2006, the report finds that when an NFL game ends in an upset, the home state of the losing team experiences a sudden, brief uptick in domestic violence.”

So enjoy your football games. I really don’t mind. But don’t pretend that the associated domestic violence is about bad apples or a cultural problem. Domestic and other forms of violence are fundamental to the game of football.

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JC Penney and the Death of the Middle Class

James Cash PenneyOn this day in 1875, the businessman James Cash Penney was born. He is known for his hugely successful chain JC Penney. He had a kind of Horatio Alger beginning in his life. He worked for a small chain of stores. The owners were so impressed with his work that when they opened a new store, they gave him one-third ownership. After a couple of years when his partners wanted to break up, Penney bought out their interests and the chain was formed. Within ten years, it went from three stores up to 34. By 1929, the chain was nationwide with 1,400 stores. Although he was hit hard by the Great Depression, he weathered it and remained with the chain up to his death at 95 in 1971.

The company has managed to do pretty well in good times and bad. But the last decade has been very tough, as it has been for most businesses that cater to the middle class. This is because the middle class is dying. There is a thought experiment that is worth doing. Consider an economy in which one person owned everything. It couldn’t work because no one would be in a position to buy anything. A successful economy depends upon transactions. The more lopsided the distribution of goods, the less transactions can occur. So in general, an economy that is fairly equal will be one that works the best.

This is a fact that seems to have been forgotten by the rich of the world. Or rather, they believe in the thoroughly repudiated Say’s Law, “Supply creates its own demand.” By this theory, as long as the rich have factories to build things, there will be people to buy them because… Actually, I have no idea why. The idea is ridiculous. As I discussed last month, Wall St Says Economic Inequality Is Bad. And it is bad for the rich as well as the poor.

What James Cash Penney built was great. But he was only able to do it because it was done during a time of a growing middle class. When the Great Depression decimated the middle class, it almost destroyed his chain. And as the middle class has been systematically attacked over the last several decades, it has gotten harder and harder for Penney and other middle class oriented retailers to survive. Because the economy is like an ecosystem. We all depend upon each other. Without customers who are able to buy stuff, the greatest entrepreneur in the world will be helpless.

It really is the case that to save the middle class is to save JC Penney and Walmart. But sadly, after decades of the Job Creator myth and “Greed Is Good” apologetics, I fear the rich have lost their way. They think they can have it all. But they will find that having it all is the same as having nothing. James Cash Penney understood this balance, because he lived through it. He couldn’t depend upon the government to bail him out regardless of how badly he behaved. But he’s dead like all the great businessmen of the past. And now what we have are a bunch of entitled rich people who are indistinguishable from 18th century English Dukes.

Happy birthday James Cash Penney!

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In Defense of Thomas Frank

Thomas FrankYesterday, Thomas Frank wrote his weekly column, All These Effing Geniuses: Ezra Klein, Expert-Driven Journalism, and the Phony Washington Consensus. This morning, Jonathan Chait wrote another “Thomas Frank is an idiot” article, Have Nerds Betrayed the Left? And then Jonathan Bernstein went after him, Democratic Party Wasn’t Always Liberal. And finally, Ed Kilgore spent some time punching the hippie, No, Tom Frank, NAFTA Did Not Create the Christian Right.[1] After writing my generally positive take on Frank’s article, The Dangers of Experts in Politics, I feel the need to defend him.

What really struck me about each criticism was that the writers focused on details while just assuming that his conclusion was silly. Kilgore goes so far as to assume things that Frank did not write. He didn’t even mention NAFTA. Having read Frank for many years, it seems he is talking about the entirety of the New Democratic economic platform. Regardless, Frank’s overall argument is that after the economic conservatism of the 1980s and early 1990s, the people were ready for economic liberalism. And they didn’t get it.

A commenter on my article, Colin Keesee, noted:

I would add that if both parties act the same on economic issues, it is rational for white men in rural America to vote Republican.

Exactly! On social issues, the two parties really do provide a choice. And social conservatism is more popular. Balance that with the extreme conservative economic policies of the Republicans and the slightly less extreme conservative economic policies of the Democrats and there really is no choice. The economy is going to suck for the poor regardless of the party, so they might as well go along with the party that flatters their cultural prejudices.

I don’t think Frank is arguing that all a Democratic politician has to do is embrace economic populism and he will be elected. The entire Democratic brand has been soiled for a large part of the electorate. This is a nationwide problem. But if the cultural conservatives noticed that the Democratic Party was actually pushing policy that helped them economically, the brand would change. I’m with Frank that the current choice for such voters is social and economic conservatism (Republicans) and social liberalism and economic conservatism (Democrats). By voting Republican, they at least get half of what they want; voting Democratic, they get nothing.

Now I probably disagree with Frank in that I think the social liberalism gets in the way of reaching out to these voters. Any single Democrat running in a red district would need to repudiate his social liberalism. Rhetorically, he would need to start sounding like Rick Santorum, who has always had very good economic rhetoric (although there is no doubt if he were ever elected, he’d be economically conservative). But Frank is looking at the broader issue — the long view. The problem with the Democrats is that they spend too much time making compromises for the sake of the next election, while the Republicans succeed in pushing the whole field of debate to the right. And what that means is that the Republicans win even when they lose.

It bothers me that Chait, Bernstein, and Kilgore are so closed to the broader argument. Frank is concerned that the Democratic Party is so conservative on economic policy. The question is why Chait, Bernstein, and Kilgore are not.


[1] I hate that people call Thomas Frank “Tom.” I’ve always taken it as a kind of boast, “I know him so I call him by his nickname.” But in the article, Kilgore notes that he has only met Frank once. So it isn’t even that. Regardless, I find it confusing. I know who “Thomas Frank” is immediately. When people use “Tom Frank,” it confuses me and takes a moment for me to figure out who they are talking about. I wish they would stop doing that.

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Why Republicans and Democrats Act Differently

Ezra KleinI have a good example of why you should read me rather than Ezra Klein: I don’t waste your time. And I’m a hell of a lot more colorful. Today, over at Vox, Klein wrote a very interesting article, Why Democrats and Republicans Don’t Understand Each Other. We will leave aside the fact that his article is not about that; it is about what makes Democrats and Republicans different. It’s only been many years that I’ve known why Democrats and Republicans don’t understand each other: they are different. But the question is: why do Republicans and Democrats act so differently.

Klein spends 2,000 words on this question, throwing lots and lots of data at the reader. And much of it is very old. For example, there are a lot more self-identified conservatives than liberals. Yet these same people consistently associate themselves with the Democratic Party by six or more percentage points. What could be the reason?! Well, part of it is just that for the last four decades the Republican Party has systematically vilified the word “liberal.” If you have any questions, see Geoffrey Nunberg’s excellent book, Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show.

But more important is just the fact that the Democratic Party and the liberal movement itself is not ideological. Or at least, not nearly as ideological as the Republican Party. It is, at its core, a practical movement that is interested in improving the living conditions of the people of this country and the world. As a result, most liberals don’t even think of themselves that way. They think of themselves as practical problem solvers. It never occurs to them that Social Security is a collectivist attack on “freedom.” It’s just a program that improves the lives of the elderly without otherwise causing a great deal of disruption.

Conservatives, on the other hand, live in theoretical world where any law is just the leading edge of the End of Freedom™ as we know it. They have been making the same arguments since the income tax was created. The End of Freedom™ never comes, but they continue to see it right around the corner. They would be seen as loony if they continued to attack Social Security (although many still do), and that’s why whatever is new is the thing that brings the End of Freedom™. Hence: Obamacare!

The best example of this is something I’ve talked about many times here: government size. At least in theory, conservatives are for a small government. They have no reason for being for small government except for some irrational fear that a large government will destroy “freedom.” At the same time, these very same conservatives believe in big government when it comes to the things that governments traditionally use to oppress their people: the military and police services. But it is the big government that feeds the poor and subsidizes public libraries that they think will cause the End of Freedom™. Whatever.

Liberals, in contrast, have absolutely no interest in the size of government. They are interested in results. Does it take big government to feed the poor? Fine! Can it be done with a small government? Fine! Can it be done without any government at all? Fine! It doesn’t matter to us because we aren’t interested in theory about the size of the government. We want to feed the poor. We are a practical people.

I think that modern American conservatives are crazy and delusional. But I don’t think ideology is necessarily a bad thing. I too believe in maximizing freedom. But I live in the real world. I know what freedom actually is. I know that I’m much more likely to have my freedom harmed by a cop who mistakes me someone else than I am by a small increase in tax rates. And that gets to the very heart of worrying about theoretical “freedom.” It allows demagogues to manipulate you.

As a liberal, I don’t have to worry about that. When Obamacare was being debated, the terms were very clear: greatly increasing the number of people who have health insurance in exchange for tiny tax increases. That’s a fine deal. But that wasn’t the way that Obamacare was presented by conservatives. It was presented as: the government taking over healthcare (not true) in exchange for destroying good care (not true) and increasing prices (not true) and eliminating your choice (not true) and killing old people (not true). Notice that the conservative argument against Obamacare was never honest: it raised taxes on the rich to provide healthcare for the poor. That was the real argument, but the demagogues knew that argument would never fly!

So I feel that the liberal pragmatic approach to politics is the more sane one. All conservatives offers to people is an ideology that hides what’s really going on. And what’s really going on is a very practical ideology of taking from the poor and giving it to the rich. There are lots of ideologies one could follow. The ideology followed by conservatives is just one designed to hide the practical results, which most conservatives would hate.

So there you go: with half the words, I’ve described the difference between the parties. And I’ve done it with far more flair.

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The Italian Job Worse Than I Remembered

The Italian JobI remember watching The Italian Job many times in my distant past. It was always a fairly enjoyable film even as I found it almost completely wanting. One thing especially bothered me: the job absolutely had to have Professor Peach to deal with the computer aspects of the job. But the extent of his technical work was simply taking one tape off the computer and putting another tape on. And this is just the prime example of the fundamental problem: there is very little heist in this heist movie.

What the film does have is a whole lot of “ain’t Michael Caine dreamy?” nonsense. The females in the film are limited to a group of bikini clad models who welcome Caine’s release from jail with a party that would embarrass Larry Flynt, Caine’s strangely inconsistently jealous American girl friend, and the widow of his recently deceased friend who is more bothered by the idea of not spending six hours in bed when Caine than the death of her husband. There are also, of course, the various “big” women who Professor Peach can’t stop from molesting.

I suppose all of this is forgivable in that the film was made in 1969 and this kind of thing was considered charming along with the “flamboyant” gay man and the comedically terrified black man. The Italian Job manages to include the former, but for the latter, it substitutes the Jamaican cannabis smoker with a large penis. Maybe it is asking too much of a film that never intended to be serious to do anything but go along with the mores of its time. It’s still annoying to watch today.

The biggest problem with the film is the script. It was written by Troy Kennedy Martin, whose other major success was the similarly thin Kelly’s Heroes — a film so boring, I’ve never managed to make it to the end despite many attempts. The Italian Job is structured in three parts. The first part involves us learning what a cool chick-magnet Michael Caine is. This part might work better if Caine were charismatic. I’m not saying he’s bad, just something of a non-entity up there on the screen. You can see this very clearly in his breakout role in Zulu. Stanley Baker is the one with charisma.

The second part of the film is the heist. The problem is that all the planning for the heist was done by Caine’s dead friend before the movie starts. So this section of the film mostly involves us looking at his gang standing around waiting for the third act to start, which really has nothing to do with people. This part of the film is so poorly rendered that at the start of it, everyone involved meets around a conference table where Caine introduces each. If he hadn’t done so, we wouldn’t know who any of them were. Of course, we wouldn’t have cared. The heist is ultimately: guys rob an armored car and then escape.

The third part of the film is what it is all about: Mini Coopers racing around Turin doing cool things. But even here, there is no concern for continuity. The police are chasing the Mini Coopers and get left behind in a number of ways. But somehow there is always another police car to be on their tails. There is no sense of drama; it is just episodic and thus of no real relevance to the film. But there is this wonderful waltz section that was cut from the film because even these filmmakers understood how inappropriate it was in the larger context of the film:

Having watched the film recently and been so disappointed, I decided to watch the remake. This kind of film is actually very easy to make. And I suspect that people would do a better job with it now. It’s the kind of thing that F Gary Gray could do a good job with. I don’t expect much from a heist film. But the original just didn’t deliver, regardless of how adorable the Minis are. I’ll let you know what I think of the remake after it arrives.

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Academic Research Problems Dwarfed By Outside Vested Interests

Paul KrugmanPaul Krugman wrote a curious column today, How to Get It Wrong. He looked at the financial crisis and asked how it is the economics profession got the response so wrong. Of course, he noted that it isn’t “economics” itself that got it wrong. Anyone with a basic understand of economics could predict what happened. But there were certain notable economists who got things fatally wrong. And how exactly does that work?

I think I can explain a big part of it. It’s the money, stupid! Glenn Hubbard was paid $1,200 per hour by Countrywide Financial to sign off on their toxic mortgages. There is gobs of money to be had by working as an apologist for the wealthy. And in the economics and financial fields, people are well aware of the kind of money that is available. Some Latin scholar has no such temptations. There aren’t man walking around college campuses with buckets of money for the scholars who have the right marginal theory about Cicero’s oeuvre.

Glenn HubbardThis isn’t to say that Hubbard is a charlatan. I don’t think it works that way. What happens instead is that bankers and other promoters of “free” markets notice that the young Hubbard naturally has opinions that go along with what they are selling. So they give him money for his research. And they give him money to speak to groups of like minded plutocrats. And before long, without any intent to deceive, Glenn Hubbard dives into a collection of toxic assets and just doesn’t see anything wrong.

The problem, of course, is not Glenn Hubbard or Alberto Alesina or Reinhart and Rogoff. The problem is the politicians. Krugman discussed this. Let’s suppose these self-serving academics had not been around to provide intellectual cover for bad economic policy:

But would it have mattered if economists had behaved better? Or would people in power have done the same thing regardless?

The answer, of course, is that the politicians would have done exactly the same thing. Politicians don’t need economists to back them up. Remember Obama at the very beginning of his presidency, “All across America, families are tightening their belts and making hard choices. Now, Washington must show that same sense of responsibility.” That wasn’t based on any economic theory. When Alesina made that argument, it was circuitous. Obama was making it because it is the kind of “common sense” that just happens to be totally wrong. What he was saying was, “All across America, families are tightening their belts and making hard choices. Now, Washington must do the same thing so that American families have even less money and must tighten their belts even more and make even harder choices.”

So Krugman is right that the problem is not with the economics profession. It has a lot of good advice to offer to policy makers. But all that good advice was ignored. It didn’t tell politicians what they wanted to hear. It didn’t justify Obama’s slick rhetoric that we knew was wrong in the 1930s. And if there hadn’t been very smart cranks like Alberto Alesina around to justify what the politicians were going to do regardless, they would have gone it alone.

Think about evolutionary theory. There are no reputable scientists who question it. But there are tons of people who pretend it is bunk just because they want to believe something else. The same is true of global warming. It really doesn’t matter. If an issue becomes political, people will find a way to ignore it. And any problems within an academic discipline are dwarfed by the vested interests outside it who want to make a buck today and don’t care about the people, planet, or even the long-term health of the economy.

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