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Sunday, June 06, 2010

I have a great deal of respect for Duncan Black and Digby. However, today he links without criticism to a post of hers which strikes me as delusional.

Digby wrote

I was having an interesting email exchange with a smart person this morning which, in the interest of killing two birds with one stone, I've decided to turn into a post. My correspondent wondered why there was an international move to neo-Hooverism considering the differences in cultures between the various European countries and the US. I replied with a somewhat glib and facile response about disaster capitalism and Pete Peterson, and he pressed for a reason why the rest of the world is on the same bandwagon, especially considering their more generous history with the welfare state. (He also mentioned that Tim Geithner was surprisingly Keynesian at the G20.)

It is indeed "glib," to put it mildly, to attempts to blame Pete Peterson for German fiscal policy. I suppose I have said something that stupid in my life, but I wouldn't repeat it on the web *after* some smart person explained how anyone from any country other than the USA must conclude that US citizens don't really believe that the rest of the world exists. I'd say that demonstrated interest in the rest of the world at about the same level shown by S.C. Sen. Jake Knotts
“We’re at war over there,” Knotts said.

Asked to clarify, he said he did not mean the United States was at war with India, but was at war with “foreign countries.”

It's clear that Knotts and Digby have very vague ideas about what's going on out here outslide of the USA and don't really feel any need to find out.

And what is surprising about the idea that Geithner is Keynesian. During his secretaryship the USA has had the most Keynesian fiscal policy in its history definitely including the new deal (WWII was not fought to help the economy although it did).

Actually, I shouldn't have suggested that Digby cares less about foreign countries than about the USA as she is completely uninterested in recent US history.

It’s an article of faith among financial elites across the planet that the welfare state is an abomination and this is a global opportunity to end it. Each culture will deal with it slightly differently --- riots in Greece, marches in France, blog posts in America. But in the end, the result, short of revolution, will be similar everywhere --- the post-war welfare state will be weakened or destroyed.

It seems to me that the post war welfare state in the USA didn't amount to much compared to the current welfare state (recall there was no medicaid or medicare then). And how can Digby be so sure that the US welfare state is being weakened or destroyed ? Did she notice the Health Care Reform ?

The logic of the second quote is that financial elites get what they want. They don't seem to be getting the kind of financial regulatory reform they want do they ? I don't know how it will turn out. I assume that derivatives trading desks won't be spun off. Without that provision, the reform would still reduce the financial elites profits and contain many important provisions which they fought. Yet none of the other reforms will count, because Obama clearly supports them, so they are not leftist and so they are just what the right wants. I confidently assert that this is the way Digby's reasoning works. I see no other possible explanation for the quotes above.

As for Geithner at the G20, I’m guessing that at a minimum, they may see the efficacy of maintaining some flexibility. Their magical thinking hasn’t gotten them to where they hoped it would ---the market hasn’t “fixed itself” at least on terms that are politically sustainable --- and so perhaps they are seeing this as a long term challenge instead of a short term cyclical crisis. I don’t know. But aside from the inadequate stimulus, everything they have said up to now is in service of the hoary old Hooverite ideas about belt tightening and sacrifice even down to giddily announcing they are going to reform social security the "right way." The re-institution of Paygo, the deficit commission, the constant lip service to austerity has led to a validation of the erroneous idea that deficits are causing our economic problems and that government needs to hold back spending to fix them --- when the opposite is true.

Look I rant and I don't deny it. Digby rants too. She violates not only logic but grammar. Note "But aside from the inadequate stimulus, everything they have said up to now is in service of the hoary old Hooverite ideas." Uh Digby, neither of the two stimuli were thngs that they said. That was something which was done.

I think this error shows that Digby cares too much about rhetoric and too little about reality. Digby can't even maintain interest in things that have been done for a full sentence. She devotes her life to arguing for progressivism. She clearly has decided that it matters more what you say than what you do.

Setting up a commission to study something is a typical way to not do anything about it. A huge (albeit inadequate) stimulus is not magical thinking. Obama's proposal to reform social security involved no cuts in the welfare state. He proposed increasing taxes paid by rich people. But that is a policy proposal and violates the left blogosphere party line that there is no problem so leftists accuse Obama of being in the pocket of financial elites because he proposed increasing rich peoples' taxes. And what is this about everything they say being in favor of austerity ? Obviously they have been arguing that the stimulus is working (as it is). They argue that it was good policy. That isn't arguing in favor of austerity.

Now note one very specific fact. Digby asserts that there was one inadequate stimulus (which was inadequate partly because it was reduced by the Senate remember Ben Nelson trimming fat frying bacon and milking the sacred cows ?). In fact this congress passed its second stimulus or "jobs bill" early this Spring. Digby just erased that from history (I write this congress because the last congress also passed a small stimulus bill). Yet another stimulus bill has passed the house.

These are bills which increase Federal spending. I think it is clear that the lip service to austerity is plain double talk. The line is always "I understand and appreciate the case for frugality but ..."

And what is this nonsense about a populist uprising. Has Digby ever checked a poll ? Most adult Americans think that to help the economy the deficit should be cut. They aren't going to rise up waving a banner with Keynes' face on it. Geithner's devotion to Keynes is out of the mainstream of US public opinion.

OK back to Europe. Here budgets are being slashed. It is agreed that it is absolutely necessary to cut the deficit by any means necessary. Notably there was not a large discretionary stimulus here. Notably, the Euro block has been growing slower than the USA.

I see three fatal mental disorders behind this appalling post. First, Digby cares too much about words. She doesn't like Obama, because he doesn't present himself as a leftist and denounce the right. Therefore she ignores what he has actually done.

Second she considers anything acceptable to, say Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman to be roughly as far right as conceivable. Therefore, she has decided that the Obama administration is Hooverian because they haven't done things without getting 60 votes in the Senate. They can't. 50 Democratic Senators can, but they won't.

I conclude that, when writing this post, Digby was roughly as reality based as Boehner usually is. I know that is rude, but I toned it down two grades from the first name that came to mind.


Anonymous said...

This post is appalling. Typical pseudo-liberal gasbag stuff.

Brad DeLong:

"...we have the Obama administration calling for a three-year spending freeze on programs unrelated to national security. We have Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Chris van Hollen calling for deeper short-term spending cuts. We have an administration experiencing difficulty finding $23 billion to prevent additional teacher layoffs, even though maintaining — no, expanding — investment in education in a recession is the no-brainiest of no-brainers."

I guess he's delusional too?

Paul Krugman (Bad Analysis At The Deficit Commission) too, I guess:

"The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities worries that the Obama budget commission is already giving ammunition to the deficit crazies; it cites testimony by Carmen Reinhart claiming that gross debt, not debt owed to the public, is the right measure. I agree that this is off base....if the Obama commission feeds that false perception, right there it’s doing a lot of harm."

You owe Digby an apology.

Bruce Wilder said...

OK, you are ranting. That much I can confirm, for you.

Of course, digby is more concerned about words -- words are what she does. Hers is a cultural and rhetorical critique. She tries to take economics seriously, but defers to others on that, as she should.

There's nothing wrong with her appraisal of the politics of Obama's economics. Your attempt to portray it as factually or reality-challenged falls flat. If Brad DeLong finds Obama drifting to his right, digby is certainly correct to see Obama to her right.

Words matter a lot. If, as you say, the consensus opinion of Americans that the deficit is a major economic problem, and Keynes offers no solution, that's the outcome of the kind of successful corporate right-wing propaganda that digby criticizes and fights against. digby is absolutely correct that Obama's failure to use his gifts, his bully pulpit, or the levers of power, to fight this state of affairs more effectively is disappointing, and constrains policy (as you, yourself, say) in damaging ways.

digby is, as they say, part of the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, and Obama is not. That's Obama's deficiency, not digby's. The Left of the Democratic Party is allowed to exist and have opinions; we're even allowed to vote, on rare occasions when Obama isn't trying to secure an important Democratic nomination for some right-wing nutcase or opportunist. digby wants to find ways to move Obama and the Democratic Party to the Left. This puts her on the side of the angels.

Just because someone on the Left of the Democratic Party criticizes Obama, justly, for being a corporate toady, does not mean that the health care reform wasn't very thin soup, the stimulus wasn't wholly inadequate, the financial bailout a destructive gift to the plutocracy, that unemployment isn't at 10%, or that the longest wars in American history are not continuing without any purpose or point in sight.

If you are not dissatisfied with the performance of this President, on substantive policy grounds, you are not paying sufficient attention.

Anonymous said...

Besides the point rant: Geithner is unsurprising hyperkynsian in international negotiations because all the costs are external. The other way round, things are not so obvious for the creditor nations which might fear that their US assets get devalued through an extreme Keynsian policy.