I had the chance to read Paul Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal during a pause of reading Greenspan’s book. The juxtaposition was interesting.
One interesting thing to point out before I get to substance is that early VRWC studies always pointed out how the VRWC created parallels institutions in media, scholarship, etc. to counter the “liberal” establishment. Funny then that, Conscience of a Liberal is a direct lift from Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative (just like The Emerging Democratic Majority mirrored The Emerging Republican Majority).
Krugman’s thesis is pretty simple: the depression and WWII forced social changes that resulted in great equality, changes that were ultimately unwound because of race, not because of economics. That growing inequality, as a social, not economic phenomenon, is the source of many of our problems.
This is the standard liberal history of post-WWII America, except that it does put more emphasis on the race issue, instead of just politely hinting at it.
Krugman calls for universal healthcare according to the Hillary 2.0/Schwarzenegger/Edwards/Obama model as a chance to show once again that government can work against inequality, and then, on that basis, push further social programs to reduce inequality, like more EITC, etc.
The best I can say about that is that Krugman’s book sounds as likely to me as Goldwater’s would have to most readers in the late 50s. The worst I can say is that Krugman may be underestimating the entrenchment of the forces of inequality.
To give a physical analogy, the forces pulling away from Golden Age levels of inequality in this country, once they reach a critical point, are probably not subject to peaceful change, whereas the populist forces that pull for a more equal equilibrium are easy to change through creative division and conquest, just like the New Deal coalition.
Or maybe he is making a too facile comparison between the Great Depression, WWII, and now. Certainly, he makes a compelling case that because inequality is as great as it was in the 1920s that the circumstances are parallel, but does the perception needed to create the momentum for that kind of change exist now?
I don’t think it does. I think many Americans are scared shitless by their healthcare situation, and so some band-aid reform may eventually happen, but I don’t think it is likely to create any momentum for further progressive change.
The reason for that is that, no matter who is elected in 2008–say it’s 67 Democratic senators, 295 Representatives, and the most liberal realistic presidential candidate–the kind of financial pain any responsible government will have to inflict to remedy the mess created by the Bush Administration will itself will be budget busting.
Passing even band-aid health insurance, on top of a 1993-Clintonesque budget package will require all the political capital even a landslide victory on that scale would generate, and then some.
And the pain it will inflict will, I don’t think, generate any near-term enthusiasm for further entitlements or spending. Even if the military budget were slashed in half (which in itself destroys part of an equality-generating quasi-welfare state), the tolerance for Euro-style safety nets isn’t there.
Plus, I am afraid, whatever health care plan does pass, even if it is single payer, will be chiseled at like the escape hatch in the Shawshank Redemption so that Republicans can create a self-fulfilling prophecy about “socialized medicine.”
First of all, there is zero chance it will cover abortions. It probably won’t cover most kinds of birth control, right? There will be voluminous claims of fraud, and straw-man “Socialized Medicine Queens” (naturally darker skinned).
The good stories, the people who had no care in the past, will soon get older, and people will grow up with a memory of the system before, and will agitate to destroy it for its wastes.
That is the fate of any equality generating program in this country in the absence of a catastrophic decline.