Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Monday, September 04, 2006

MaxSpeak Gets Semi-Medieval on DeLong

Max Sawicky writes:

MaxSpeak, You Listen!: FEAR OF A POPULIST PLANET: I find this odd, especially coming from a liberal:

The aim of governance, I think, is to achieve a rough consensus among the reality-based technocrats and then to frame the issues in a way that attracts the ideologues on one (or, ideally, both) wings in order to create an effective governing coalition.

The idea seems to be that social change originates in government bureaus, whose operatives seek markets for their ideas in the broader public. This is a formula for stagnation, since the process depends on the existing configuration of political forces and the transitory state of public opinion.

By contrast, the populist idea is that masses of disenfranchised people, to be sure influenced by intellectual leaders, create pressure for change that makes it possible for politicians to make better deals, with the technical support of technocrats, as well as to elevate better politicians. Insofar as the current state of politics, public opinion, and Brad's bete noir, the media, are unsatisfactory, we need the public to make some huge waves, turn over tables, break china, to shock politics into more constructive directions. As soon as an idea is reduced to a technical discussion, all the political energy drains out of it and the party's over.

What are the basic elements of such a groundswell?

Again an odd statement from Brad:

The easiest and most important thing the government can do to neutralize the adverse consequences of rising inequality is to make the tax system more progressive, not less.

To the contrary, the social-democratic idea is that public expenditure does more to combat economic inequality than the distribution of the tax burden. In the U.S. context, this goes to national health insurance and more public investment in education, training, infrastructure, and research and development.

Better to focus on labor rights; democratic money; fair trade; fiscal expansion; anti-imperialism; social insurance; and getting the state out of bedrooms, wedding chapels, and wombs. In all of these cases really-existing technocrats are compromised in rotten deals that endanger national security, family well-being, and personal liberty. We need to take a hammer to public policy, not a scalpal or a tweezers.

Brad has his roles mixed up. There is tree-shaking and jelly-making. Without more of the former, the latter will not be possible. Technocrats serve the people, and the more riled up the people are, the more technocrats will be able to do. Technocrats yes, technocracy no.

Brad's animus towards W.J. Bryan, relative to LBJ, dovetails with the Clinton Administration's arms-length posture towards its most loyal constituencies. Trade unions are bad for trade policy. The poor oppose "welfare reform." Advocates want undisciplined social spending. Money cranks rant ignorantly about Fed policy. Once in power, Democratic office-holders go to war against their own voters.

Worst of all, the popular liberal impulse to good deeds in international affairs is poisoned by narrow, delusional, or corrupt elite foreign policy considerations. The road from Vietnam runs through Kosovo and ends in Iraq. W.J. Bryan understood that.

I will simply propose a bit of optional reading: Robert Kuttner (1980), Revolt of the Haves: Tax Rebellions and Hard Times (New York: Simon and Schuster: 067125099X).

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