Paul Krugman Is Not Making Much Sense

Election '16

Paul Krugman has been a voice in the wilderness for liberals for decades.  But his piece in the Times about Bernie Sanders’ lack of policy credentials and Sanders’ “petulant self-righteous” followers misses the boat completely. 

Krugman needs a reality check: Wonkish policy details about economic reform are irrelevant. Sanders isn’t an economist. Neither is Clinton. As president, his economic initiatives will have more to do with whom he surrounds himself, not with whether or not he gets it exactly right about the role of the “big banks” in the 2007 Great Recession. 

And Sanders is right enough. Big banks, with their bloated indebtedness and irresponsible lending and support for risky derivatives that even they didn’t always understand contributed greatly to the meltdown. Further, these bankers took the bailout money they received from taxpayers and gave themselves big bonuses the next year (until they were shamed into temporarily rescinding them).  So, Sanders, I expect, will surround himself not with Wall Street insiders like Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner (these are more likely Hilary supporters and fellow-travelers) but, instead, with progressive economists like Dean Baker, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Reich, and Krugman, himself. The economic policy details that Krugman now demands will most likely emerge from this Sanders-led brain trust, not from a candidate interview with the N.Y. Daily News. 

Furthermore, I think Krugman should quit being a martyr by repeatedly saying that Bernie supporters are out there accusing him and other anti-Sanders ideologues of being “corrupt or even criminal.” I’m not sure where he is finding this left wing McCarthyite paranoia?  By which reputable Sanders supporters is he being scapegoated in such a ridiculous way? It's as if Krugman wants to wrap himself in the cloak of being a renegade victim when, in reality, his pro-Hilary bias puts him squarely in the liberal establishment mainstream.

Krugman should get his head out of his “inside-the-academic economics-blogosphere” and think about real world politics for a change.  Sanders understands that even were he a policy wonk, the President can’t make radical stuff happen without the support of a social movement agitating for such change. And it is here that Sanders and Krugman parts ways, since Krugman doesn’t identify as a political activist and is hardly radical when critiquing moronic Republican orthodoxy or Paul Ryan. But Sanders at least has a cursory appreciation of the absolute necessity of building grassroots support for his radical proposals. 

When John L. Lewis petitioned Roosevelt for certain planks of a workers’ rights platform, FDR reportedly said, “Go out there and make me!” The political question of our day is how to mobilize people to “make” their elected representatives legislate on behalf of the have-nots against the haves. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), the details of how to unwind a huge financial institution is irrelevant to this task. Clinton could no more lay out such a process than Sanders.  Is Krugman similarly critical of her for such a failure to do so?  In either case, it doesn't really matter.

Social movements are made up of people who are passionate and are fueled by a sense of meaning and purpose.  This is what Sanders brings to the table and it’s where Clinton fails.  It’s not about “idealism vs. realism” but about what exactly it takes to animate millions of people to demand radical social change.  And that energy isn’t going to be stoked by a candidate making the distinctions Krugman parsed in the Times, such as those between the sub-prime lending practices of Countrywide Financial, “shadow banks” like Lehman Brothers or unscrupulous financial behemoths like Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse. 

Krugman wishes, I’m sure, that our citizenry would just be more damn rational and understand these allegedly profound distinctions, but they don’t and won’t.  But we know when we’re being screwed and we resonate when a candidate acknowledges that fact.

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