I hadn’t planned to read Paul Krugman’s new book End This Depression Now! I read his blog every day and I’ve read all of his books for lay audiences, so I didn’t think there would be much to offer in this book. But I couldn’t help myself. The book is a quick read; Krugman writes in a breezy style that is uncommon for a political book. But more important, the book does a great job of tying up all of his various policy beliefs into a single narrative that is extremely insightful.
The book is broken down in three parts: the history of how we got to where we are now, what (and who) is stopping us from doing anything, and what we should be doing. It is much more edifying than, say, the very good documentary Inside Job. But I’m not sure it is worth the cover price of $24.95 (although it is only $15.26 in hardcover or $9.48 in electronic form on Amazon).
It is not surprising that I totally accept Krugman’s argument. I’ve been reading him so long that I don’t know where his opinions end and mine begin. I’ve come to believe that as long as we are living in this conservative dark age, we will always agree. It is only when the economy is doing well that I will begin to see him as a moderate. That is one of the aggravating things about our nation at this time. Krugman is in no way a radical or even particularly liberal. It is only that our society has gotten so out of kilter that he appears so.
Nonetheless, he see the world clearly. He discusses cuts to the stimulus by $100 billion to get the necessary Republican votes to pass it.
Many commentators see that demand for a smaller stimulus as a clear demonstration that no bigger bill was possible. I guess I don’t think of it as being all that clear. First of all, there may have been a pound-of-fless aspect to the behavior of those three senators: they had to make a show of cutting something to prove that they weren’t giving away the store. So you can make a reasonable case that the real limit on stimulus wasn’t $787 billion, that it was $100 billion less than Obama’s plan, whatever it was; if he had asked for more, he wouldn’t have gotten all he asked for, but he would have gotten a bigger effort all the same.
I think a lot of us had thought the same thing. For one, Jonathan Chait discussed how Olympia Snowe bargained with her vote:
The retirement of Olympia Snowe, at the young (by senatorial standards) age of 65, has again dramatized the perilous condition of the Senate moderates. They have been scorned, marginalized, and hunted close to extinction. Yet the striking fact about Snowe’s career is that, far from being shunted to the sidelines, she has wielded, or been given the opportunity to wield, enormous power. She has used it, on the whole, quite badly.
When George W. Bush proposed a huge, regressive tax cut in 2001, Snowe, sitting at the heart of a decisive block of centrists, used her leverage to support the passage of a modestly smaller and less regressive version. When Barack Obama proposed a large fiscal stimulus in 2009, Snowe (citing fears of deficits that she had helped create) decided to shave a nice round $100 billion off his figure and call it a day. If a Gingrich administration proposed spending a trillion dollars to erect a 100- foot-tall solid-gold Winston Churchill statue on Mars, Snowe would no doubt decide, after careful deliberation, that the wise course was to trim the height down to 90 feet and perhaps use a cheaper bronze alloy in the base.
What this all means is that Republicans don’t particularly believe in anything. Even the supposed moderate or reasonable ones only do what they think of as politically expedient. And this is all the more the reason that liberals need a political part that does stand for something. As I’ve noted before, we don’t need to win elections; we need to move the whole field back to the left—back to where Krugman is in the center.
Until then, it is kind of useless to think too much of Krugman’s plan to fix what ails us. But it is a little heartening to know the solution is as easy as Krugman says.