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Hullabaloo


Monday, June 30, 2014

 
You don't need to be a bleeding heart to know that liberal economics works

by David Atkins

One of my posts yesterday at the Washington Monthly focused on how much the left has lost in terms of vigorous defense of Keynesian economics by allowing itself to be hemmed in as the party of bleeding heart compassion:

Most of the rhetoric around income inequality and economic fairness on the American left is about helping those who have “been left behind in our economy” or “need a helping hand.” While there has been some very welcome focus on broader structural challenges from some, including from President Obama in this superb 2013 speech on economic mobility, the vast majority of liberal rhetoric is framed in terms of either the decline in the middle class or compassion for the poor. Even Hanauer himself falls into this trap somewhat by focusing most of his policy attention on the minimum wage.

But while empathy for the poorest Americans and those who have fallen into poverty is an excellent and important thing, it’s not actually a prerequisite for fixing America’s broken economic system. There has been a widespread and fatally flawed acceptance since at least the 1980s of the notion that unrestrained asset and capital growth is a good thing, and that all we need do is soften its edges by making sure that the people left out of the churning growth-mobile have a safety net to support them.

Very little attention has been paid by either side of the aisle until recently to the problem of stagnant wages, or the problem of overinflating asset bubbles, or even to the problem of inequality itself. There is even less talk around the nation’s capital about broader Keynesian principles, or about how all of this inequality is actually bad for business as well. It is simply presumed that conservatives know what is best for business (even if it’s at the expense of workers), that what is good for the Dow Jones index is good for the economy, that rising housing prices are an unadulterated benefit, and that the biggest difference between conservatives and liberals is how much the rest of us should pay in taxes to help the few who get lost along the way.
I went on to highlight the way that FDR used a much more mechanistic approach to talk about why the New Deal was not only important from a moral perspective, but necessary from a purely functional perspective. For instance, here's a bit from one of his fireside chats:

Now I come to the links which will build us a more lasting prosperity. I have said that we cannot attain that in a Nation half boom and half broke. If all of our people have work and fair wages and fair profits, they can buy the products of their neighbors, and business is good. But if you take away the wages and the profits of half of them, business is only half as good. It does not help much if the fortunate half is very prosperous; the best way is for everybody to be reasonably prosperous.
It's not just that liberal economics are the right policies for those with a shred of empathy in their bones. It's also that it's more efficient and leads to better outcomes in general. We should talk about that more.


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