Posts Tagged ‘paul krugman’

Ever since the financial crash of 2008, the subject of global economics has been at the tip of everyone’s tongues. A period of remarkable economic growth came to an abrupt end, and to this day most of us are feeling the effects of it. Now when it comes to understanding the strange and often contradictory world of economics, there are definitely worse people to look to than Paul Krugman. Professor of Economics at Princeton University, New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winner aside, Krugman was voted 6th in a poll of the world’s 100 top intellectuals by Prospect.

The Conscience of a Liberal (also the name of Krugman’s blog) traces the path of inequality in the United States from the late 19th century to the present day, and how – after a period of relative economic equality in the 60’s – income distribution in the United States today is as bad as, if not worse than, it was in the early 20th century. By inequality, we’re essentially talking about the difference in the income of the richest and poorest members of society.

Over the course of the book, Krugman describes the evolution of the two main political parties in the US, the Democrats and the Conservatives. He shows how during the 70’s and 80’s, the Republican party was hijacked by ‘movement conservatives’, or as some have described it, the ‘conservative labrynth’ – a network of media outlets, right-wing think tanks and corporations supported by wealthy benefactors dedicated to spreading a version of conservatism that is vehemently opposed to the tenets of the New Dealintroduced by Roosevelt in the 1930’s.

Krugman spends much of the book discussing the rise of movement conservatives and their hijack of the Republican Party. He also talks about how they were able to achieve so much support – to the extent that they were able to win elections consistently – with such unpopular economic policies. The economics of these movement conservatives, Krugman argues, increased inequality as they decreased taxes for the richest segments of society while weaking social safety nets. So how did a party with such policies manage to consistently win elections?

Krugman discusses a number of interesting and valid methods in which the Republican party were able to convince voters to vote for them, but the most influential – and ugliest – of their tactics, he argues, was for them to play the race card. According to him, the Republicans were able to convince a majority of voters to choose them despite unfair economic policies was to play on the fears of white voters, at a time when racism, whether hidden or overt, was a major factor in American life. Now to those of us who did not grow up in America during this time, it can seem a strange argument, particularly when reading a book written by a prominent Economist, not a sociologist or historian. However, Krugman backs his argument strongly, and convinces the reader of the validity of his argument.

Towards the end of the book, the author looks to the future, and claims that progressives and liberals need to focus on one major issue in the coming years: healthcare. Krugman claims that achieving universal healthcare is a must. Every other developed economy has universal healthcare, and so the US lags behind. Krugman outlines the main features that a healthcare plan must have, and the difficulties that would be involved in trying to implement this in the US. Now this book was written before the recent healthcare bills were passed, and so comparing Krugman’s ideas with the actual details of the current healthcare would certainly make for interesting reading for those interested in the subject.

Krugman packs many a punch in this book, and is not afraid to tread on any toes. Theodore Roosevelt once uttered these words:

“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace – business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs.

We know that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hatred for me – and I welcome their hatred.”

Krugman shares Roosevelt’s spirit in this regard, and offers a stinging indictment of the state of the modern Republican party. While Obama may be attempting a bipartisan approach, reaching out to a Republican party that has no interest in playing ball, Krugman argues that in many cases a bipartisan approach is simply unworkable.

The focus of the book is ultimately inequality in the US, but by demonstrating the direct effect of movement conservatism’s harmful economic ideology, Krugman shows us how this inequality came about, and why a progressive Government must focus on healthcare reform (which Obama has now done) in order to halt the rise in inequality and take major step towards a fairer society. The book provides a fascinating look at the rise of the Republicans in their current form, and Krugman makes a strong argument for the rejuvination of public institutions in the US. A must read.

Advertisements