Sunday, October 21, 2007

Paul Krugman at Firedoglake

Paul Krugman's Conscience of a Liberal is reviewed at FDL.
Jane Hamsher has set in motion a treasure among political blogs. It's been a while since I went there (choir members rarely pay close attention to the preacher) so I was blown away by how far my side of politics has improved. Inspires me to quit apologizing for being an old-fashioned Liberal.

Krugman begins by showing how middle class America was not a natural outgrowth of industrialization, but was constructed in a very short time by the policies of the Roosevelt era coming out of the Depression and World War II. Government raised taxes on the wealthy, created a public safety net for working families – Social Security, unemployment insurance – and fostered a private social contract – strong unions that exacted family wages, health care, pensions, paid vacations and more from corporations. This helped produce twenty-five years of prosperity in which America grew together (except for those who were locked out, like Blacks in the apartheid South)

That era ended, Krugman argues, not because of globalization or technology but because movement conservatives captured our politics and systematically succored the wealthy while skewering the rest of us. Tax burdens were shifted, corporations and capital deregulated, unions decimated, greed celebrated. By 2007, at a time of low unemployment and inflation, rising profits and productivity, most Americans thought the country was in or on the verge of a recession, even before the housing bubble burst.

How could a program designed to benefit the few win popular support? Krugman reviews the oft-told story of the rise of the right, the building of its infrastructure of politics and ideas, its use of national security, and social backlash to find a popular base.

But he cuts through much of the mystification to show how central racial prejudice — the white backlash to the civil rights movement – was to this project. It was Nixon’s southern strategy – race-bait politics that flipped the South – that enabled movement conservatives to capture and consolidate their hold on national power.

Now this conservative era is running on empty. The debacle in Iraq has stripped Bush of the security club he wielded against Democrats in 2002 and 2004. Race bait politics is turning Republicans into a white-only, reactionary regional party in a nation of increasing diversity and social liberalism. And as demonstrated in 2006, if Democrats stand up for working Americans, they have the opportunity to forge a new reform majority.

If they do, Krugman suggests their core agenda is clear. Start with universal, affordable health care, paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy. Raise the minimum wage, empower unions, particularly in the industries less exposed to global competition. Succeeding in these reforms will set the stage for more.

Krugman himself participates in the comments thread, commenting and answering questions, making that extremely long list (200+ at this writing) a motherlode of fascinating reading. My Sunday morning scanning got mired down for the better part of half an hour.


Question: Dr. Krugman, a serious question- wouldn’t universal healthcare be good for american businesses? Wouldn’t it help them to be more competitive?
Why doesn’t anyone ever make that argument? It seems so ridiculous to me- the republicans are against universal healthcare because government handouts are “against their principles” but they have no problem with industry bailouts.

Reply: yes, this is a real puzzle. The Big 3 auto makers are, in fact, enthusiastic supporters of single-payer health care — in Canada. (They send letters to the Canadian government warning that any tampering with the system would greatly hurt their competitiveness.) So why don’t they do the same here?
My take is that it’s two things. One, fear of retribution: as I wrote in my last column, for about a decade Tom DeLay and his friends did a pretty good job of turning K Street into an appendage of the GOP, not the other way around, and big companies were probably afraid to challenge the free-market line.
The other thing may be the difference between the interests of the company and those of its executives. Advocating universal health care might save GM, but get its CEO blackballed from the country club. Decisions, decisions.


Question: One of my lingering concerns about universal single-payer is that if we uncouple the cost of health care from individual purchasing decisions, people will come to see it as free and demand will spiral out of control.
I’m sorry, but that just makes no sense. Your children aren’t going to run out and get more measles and you’re not going to choose to have an extra heart attack because you have universal coverage.
Will people “choose” to get more preventative care? probably, which should reduce the demand for more expensive, late stage emergency treatment.
IMHO, anyway.

Reply: OK, on all this: the health care choices people make for themselves basically involve pocket change; visits to the doctor, minor surgery, are not where the money is.
The big stuff is in hugely expensive procedures: heart bypasses, dialysis, etc.. These things either get paid by insurance, or they don’t happen at all.
So making sure that everyone has insurance won’t lead to significantly higher spending on care — and it will save huge amounts on bureaucracy (Medicare has overhead of 3 percent; private insurance companies have overhead of 14 percent)
Conservatives love the “moral hazard” argument that people consume too much care because they don’t pay for it, but when you do the numbers it turns out to be basically nonsense.

Krugman believes the Healthcare debate was kicked into motion by Edwards. (►83) I think he's right. Elsewhere he mentioned that when Edwards opened the discussion then Obama and Clinton were obliged to join in.

He has the gift of snark (►117) as well as a refreshing take on the future of unions. (►129). But he wins my heart with this line from ►132: [T]he market system is a tool to be used when appropriate, not a deity to be worshipped without question.

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