Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman on Bloomberg presidential run: The US doesn’t need a ‘billionaire businessman to save the day’

Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman on Bloomberg presidential run: The US doesn’t need a ‘billionaire businessman to save the day’
David Berkowitz

Michael Bloomberg is seriously considering running for president as a Democrat; Tuesday, the billionaire former New York City mayor officially filed paperwork for the March 3 Democratic primary in Arkansas. Bloomberg believes that Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders are too left-of-center for 2020’s general election and that former Vice President Joe Biden, a centrist, is running a weak campaign. Liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman isn’t the least bit enthusiastic about a Bloomberg presidential run, and he stresses in his November 11 column that the last thing the U.S. needs is a billionaire coming in to “save the day.”

“Billionaires aren’t necessarily bad people, and most of them probably aren’t,” Krugman writes. “However, some are, and my unscientific sense is that billionaires are more likely than the rest of us to exhibit bad judgment warped by runaway egos — especially in the political sphere.”

Bloomberg, Krugman notes, isn’t the first billionaire who has been touted as a political savior for 2020: Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz also considered a presidential run.

“When Howard Schultz — remember him? — ran that combination up the flagpole to see if anyone saluted, only about 4% of voters approved,” Krugman observes. “And early indications don’t show Bloomberg doing much better, even though as someone who successfully ran New York, he has a much better case to offer.”

Billionaires, Krugman stresses, don’t necessarily make wise decisions — and millions of American voters find the “bubble” they inhabit to be problematic.

“The billionaires in the bubble find themselves in an environment in which concerns about soaring inequality, about the extraordinary concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, finally seem to be getting political traction,” Krugman notes.

Looking back on the 20th Century, Krugman cites 1980 as a turning point in the U.S. economy — and not one that was a change for the better.

“American economic history since World War II falls fairly neatly into two halves: a first era, ending roughly in 1980, during which progressive taxation, strong unions and social norms limited extreme wealth accumulation at the top — and the era of soaring inequality since them,” Krugman explains. “Did the new prosperity of plutocrats ‘trickle down’ to the nation as a whole?”

Krugman’s answer to his question is a definite “no.” 1980, of course, was the year in which Ronald Reagan was elected president, ushering in an era of trickle-door economics, major tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy and a weakening of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and its sequel: President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society.

With the rise of Warren and Sanders, Krugman asserts, one sees a growing appetite for a return to liberal/progressive economics — although he fears that their Medicare-for-all proposals might be too much too soon.

“I’m not saying that the U.S. public is necessarily ready for the likes of Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders,” Krugman asserts. “I worry in particular about the politics of Medicare for All — not because of the cost, but because proposing the abolition of private insurance could unnerve tens of millions of middle-class voters.”

But billionaires, Krugman quickly adds, are not necessarily well-equipped to run the country simply because they are billionaires.

“The idea that America is just waiting for a billionaire businessman to save the day by riding in on a white horse — or, actually, being driven over in a black limo — is just silly,” Krugman emphasizes. “It is, in fact, the kind of thing only a billionaire could believe.”

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