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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ezra Klein attempts to defend Robert Kuttner from Brad DeLong's attack on Kuttners attack on Robert Rubin. Robert Waldmann is not willing to be AWOL from a good circular firing squad.

I am ignorant (really) and I don't know the basis for Klein's claim that "It was Rubin, after all, who convinced the nascent Clinton administration to do NAFTA before health reform"

My impression at the time was that health care reform was delayed because H Clinton and Ira Magaziner needed more time to consult more people in order to decide to do what they had planned to do all along. I definitely recall that W J Clinton declared a deadline for the announcement of the proposal which was missed by months.

A bit of googling shows that the deadline for the announcement was May 30 1993. See this in particular. "The health plan itself was supposed to be unveiled May 30, 1993, to meet the President's much-ballyhooed 100-day deadline, but it was not officially presented to Congress until September 22, 1993"). This does not seem to be consistent with Klein's claim that the nascent Clinton administration decided to do NAFTA first. Is there a basis for that claim other than Robert Kuttner said so ?

While searching for the deadline I found

"In his initial memo to Mrs. Clinton, dated Jan. 26, 1993, he listed "likely criticisms" that the plan would generate: "[snip] Universal coverage would involve redistribution of income and disrupt satisfactory arrangements for many Americans." Get it. One core principle of the Clinton Clinton and Magaziner approach was that income redistribution is bad.

In contrast Rubin forcefully advocated a huge increase in the highest marginal tax rate and an increase in the EITC -- that is redistribution from people like him.

Rubin is a banker. Bankers may like balanced budgets, but they typically do not like efforts to balance budgets by increasing the taxes that they personally pay. Rubin is a traitor to his class. Ira Magaziner is not an enemy of Robert Rubin's class (or his own not so exalted class). There are no two ways about it.

I think the fundamental problem with Kuttner's effort to understand who is and who is not an egalitarian is that he doesn't seem to give a damn about foreigners. He considers free trade anti egalitarian because it is good for US based investors and bad for US resident workers. I oppose protection (by developed countries at least) because I think it is bad for the really poor workers in developing countries. I have always believed that fighting protectionism in rich countries (at least) is the left wing egalitarian position. Really. Honestly.

To Kuttner support for free trade can only be based on concern for the interests of US capitalists (my word not his) evidently inculcated in Rubin (perhaps without his full awareness ) while he was at Goldman Sachs.

Now it may be that Robert Kuttner's main problem with the deification of Robert Rubin is that Robert Rubin is not Robert Kuttner. It may be that he thinks that globalisation implies the capitalist exploitation of third world workers (and forgets that Joan Robinson said something like "the only thing worse for workers than capitalist exploitation is the absence of capitalist exploitation."

I think it is very likely (certain in fact) that Kuttner thinks that the Democratic party should use economic populism to win back the working class. I agree with him on that. It is one of my personal obsessions and I acknowledge my intellectual debt to Kuttner. I read that written by him back when I thought the Democrats had to move towards the center (this was like in 1982 or something). Still I think that US protectionism is good politics but is, worse than a mistake, an evil anti-egalitarian policy.

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