January 04, 2008


Caption: This man has been squeezed out of the middle class.

El Cabrero is winding up the week of New Year by highlighting some important books published in 2007. If this is your first visit, please click on previous posts.

Today's selection is Paul Krugman's The Conscience of A Liberal. Krugman is a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton but is best known for his columns in the New York Times. An earlier book of his, The Great Unraveling, is also worth a look.

(Come to think of it, this is probably also true of his earlier works, but I haven't read them. Yet.)

Conscience is a very readable guide to where we've come from, where we are, and where we might go as a nation in terms of economic policy and shared prosperity. Krugman looks first at the post-Civil War Gilded Age, with huge disparities of wealth and little, no safety net for working people, and disenfranchisement of millions of Americans.

This system was challenged by populists and progressives and was only overcome through the struggles of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and post-World War II policies which helped create the American middle class.

He calls this period, which lasted from the late 1940s to the mid 1970s as "the Great Compression." Taxes were high on the wealthy, some big businesses were regulated, pro-union policies were in effect, and government programs protected incomes, safety, education, and home ownership--and the country prospered as never before.

Things have obviously changed, due largely to the rise of what he calls "movement conservatism" (and what Jonathan Chait calls "crackpot economics"):

The American I grew up in was a relatively equal middle-class society. Over the past generation, however, the country has returned to Gilded Age levels of inequality.

Krugman offers a number of market and "aftermarket" policy measures to reverse this trend and builds a strong case for the "health care imperative"--the need to create a universal system of care. He notes that a weird reversal has occurred in our current political climate:

One of the seeming paradoxes of America in the early twenty-first century is that those of us who call themselves liberal are, in an important sense, conservative, while those who call themselves conservative are for the most part deeply radical. Liberals want to restore the middle-class society I grew up in; those who call themselves conservative want to take us back to the Gilded Age, undoing a century of history. Liberals defend long-standing institutions like Social Security and Medicare; those who call themselves conservative want to privatize or undermine those institutions. Liberals want to honor our democratic principles and the rule of law; those who call themselves conservative want the president to have dictatorial powers and have applauded the Bush administration as it imprisons people without charges and subjects them to torture.

There's a lot of history, ideas, and information here. I'd recommend checking it out. As Maude Lebowski said in that classic of American cinematography, "He's a good man--and thorough."

ANOTHER ROADBLOCK to a fresh war with Iran may have emerged. The U.S. military reports that Iran is no longer supplying training or materials to militants in Iraq.

MORAL VALUES DEPARTMENT. By way of the Washington Post, here are a series of questions religion professor R. Gustav Niebuhr would ask candidates.

UNKIND. Here's the Bush administration's latest smackdown of efforts to expand health care.

DEBT. El Cabrero has recently been trying to make sense of the massive debt/credit goat rope that is tripping up the nation. Here's a new blog by six academics on these issues: Credit Slips.



Bob said...

Always good to see a Lebowski reference

El Cabrero said...

Cool website (in the parlance of our time)--thanks for the link-I just watched it again this week!