Paul Krugman has been writing quite a lot about Europe recently. Like a lot of us, he’s very unhappy about how Francois Hollande has rolled over for the German austerity cabal that forcing counterproductive austerity on the rest of the EU. But this morning, he wrote, Austerity and the Hapless Left. In it, he noted that Hollande is hardly unusual—the left has been quite unliberal when it has come to dealing with this Greater Depression. But here’s the key: in the United States, the left has been better than in Europe.
Krugman asked why it was that the left in America was being more reasonable. His best reason was, “American liberals have been toughened up by the craziness of our right, and in particular by the experience of the Bush years…” I think that is largely correct. Here in the United States, the right has so clearly gone off the deep end that no one takes them seriously. They are clearly immune to facts.
In Europe, the right sounds much more reasonable. In fact, what they sound like are America’s own Very Serious Centrists. And this goes along with what I’ve been saying for years: self-styled centrists are really just (often) social liberals and (always) economic conservatives. The problem in this country is that the extremism of Republicans allow these people to claim the middle ground.
Look at what the conservatives in Europe are doing: they are forcing countries to cut their spending but they are also requiring them to raise taxes. I know that we liberals generally have a good opinion of taxes because we know they are necessary to fund proper government functions. But raising taxes in a depressed economy is a bad idea. Regardless, this obsession with spending cuts and tax increases is what the supposed Serious Centrists Simpson-Bowles have been pushing in America, pretty much forever.
The irony of this situation is that the Republicans are providing liberal cover against these policies. If the Republicans were not so extreme, the United States would likely have worse (that is: more conservative) economic policy—what Europe now has. But I think it is important to remember that all these supposed centrists are anything but. They are pushing policies that would be horrible for the country. They are the conservatives in Europe who are keeping the people of that continent in pain. And America, bless her soul, has the craziness of our proto-fascists to thank (thus far) for our marginally better economic policies.