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The Clinton Campaign’s “Single Issue” Meme Flop

SANDERS:

Let’s talk about my proposal for a single payer health insurance plan, a revolutionary overhaul of the health care system which you oppose.

CLINTON:

Why do you always talk about just one thing?

SANDERS:

OK, let’s talk about my proposal for a 15% minimum wage, which you also oppose.

CLINTON:

Again why do you always talk about just one thing?

SANDERS:

Huh? Well, OK, suppose we talk about my plan for universal, free public higher education.

CLINTON:

You always talk about just one thing! I’m going to call you “Mr. Poopy One Issue”!

SANDERS:

OK, let’s talk about my plan to break the big Wall Street banks up into pieces.

CLINTON:

You can just talk to the hand if you insist in talking about one thing all the time.

SANDERS:

What about the financial transactions tax idea I support – and you don’t?

CLINTON:

Arrrgghh! Why do you always talk about just that one issue?

SANDERS:

OK, the carbon tax then?

CLINTON:

“Single Issue Sanders” – that’s what I’m going to call you from now on!

SANDERS:

Well, then we could talk about the ghastly US incarceration rate.

CLINTON:

It’s always the same with you – just that one issue!

SANDERS:

I’m going to talk about my proposal for Social Security expansion now.

CLINTON:

Oh lets! It will be fun to drone on about that one, single issue  – that is all you ever talk about!

SANDERS:

If those other issues bore you, we can talk about my Immigration Reform plans instead.

CLINTON:

Or we could talk about something else besides your single issue fixation on immigration.

SANDERS:

How about the issue I’ve raised over and over about how far behind the rest of the developed world America has fallen in many of the most important categories of economic and social success?

CLINTON:

How about we talk about something other than that one thing?

SANDERS:

Should we talk about my campaigning for the Rebuild America Act to invest $1 million in infrastructure and create 13 million jobs?

CLINTON:

I’m going to have an aneurism if we have to deal with that single issue from Single Issue Sanders again!

SANDERS:

Would you prefer we talk about the Warren-McCain 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act, which I and Senator Warren support, and you oppose?

CLINTON:

Your monotonous obsession with that one single issue really has me “feeling the Bern” – the heart-Bern, ha-ha!

SANDERS:

So are you saying that my abundant campaign discussions of the problems addressed by these multiple issues are all related to a single theme I’ve stressed: that nobody can believe that substantive social change on these and all the other issues I’ve talked about is going to come from a person who has spent so much time chewing and grifting her way up the establishment food chain to earn the admiration of Henry Kissinger, the major investment banks and the billionaire philanthropists who comprise the Clinton Global Initiative?

CLINTON:

Now you get it!  That’s all you ever talk about!

SANDERS:

OK, you’re right. Although I have discussed dozens of issues in great detail in my campaign for President, they are all connected politically to that overarching theme. Thanks for pointing it out.

 

Krugman the Forgetful

Paul Krugman continues to look for new, election season reasons to have negative attitudes about the single payer health care approach he used to admire. It’s as if Krugman has suddenly forgotten several things he used to know quite clearly.

Krugman offers the briefest of concessions that the drive for single payer is largely motivated by concerns about the cost of health care in the United States:

Meanwhile, although cost control is looking better than even reform advocates expected, America’s health care remains much more expensive than anyone else’s.

So yes, there are real issues with Obamacare. The question is how to address those issues in a politically feasible way.

But he then skips quickly to a straw man argument, citing unnamed individuals offering a much weaker non-argument that he is allegedly “hearing from the left”.

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The False Center

An image of centrist politics, United States of America, circa 2016.

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Wonks? Or Minions?

Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy on May 26th, 2015. Last week, on January 18th, 2016 Paul Krugman began a series of posts critical of Sanders. That, of course, is his right. What Krugman says now is that he wants the policy differences between Sanders and Clinton to be subjected to searching analysis by policy wonks.

But throughout last summer and fall, the Sanders team – which has run a resolutely issues-oriented campaign with an unusually high substance-to-bullshit ratio for American politics – has earnestly attempted to drive debate forward on their differences with the Clinton campaign over such issues as the minimum wage, single payer health care, universal college education, wealth and income inequality, infrastructure spending, Social Security expansion, carbon taxes and others. These are issues that are hugely important to millions of struggling working Americans, and the nation as a whole. And to be fair, the Clinton campaign has also been very substantive.

So Krugman, the wonk, must have been very eager to dive into all of this meaty substantive goodness to apply some solid wonky analysis to the debate, right? And how many times did Krugman make reference to Sanders during all that time on his blog?

I count four: on September 19th, on October 18th, on October 30th, and December 9th.

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The New Economic Left Revolution

A lot of people seem perplexed by what Bernie Sanders means by “democratic socialism”. For example, Mark Thoma suggests that Sanders is not really a democratic socialist, because

Democratic socialists reject capitalism as an economic system and want to replace it with state ownership of the means of production (i.e. the state owned factories, businesses, land, housing, and so on) combined with political democracy.

Since Sanders is offering no such program, then it would seem to follow that Sanders is no democratic socialist, and he would do better to call himself something else. And indeed, if he called himself a Nordic-style social democrat, the description would be equally accurate.

But Thoma and others seem to have overlooked the fact that there is a prominent US organization called the Democratic Socialists of America. The DSA has been around for a number of years. Its founders were Michael Harrington and Barbara Ehrenreich, and its current membership includes a number of the most prominent leaders of the American left.

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Holier-than-Thou Purists and Naïve Idealists

I’m really getting tired of neoliberal purists with their naïve and idealistic views about capitalism.

I mean some of these ingénues actually believe that the market system is self-correcting and self-optimizing, as long as the price mechanism isn’t too sticky and interest rates aren’t at the zero bound. Others believe that there such a thing as a “full employment interest rate” – as if all that is required to bring an economy up to full employment is to make sure market mechanisms are able to float interest rates to some magical number! Yet others think that as long as we have enough “aggregate demand” to get the production system up to the full employment level, it doesn’t matter what that production system produces or how those people are employed, and that making decisions on those matters is a dangerous violation of the taboos of capitalist purity, and isn’t something economists should think about or meddle with.

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2016: An End of Neoliberalism Meme Odyssey

I’ve been having some fun lately creating memes on based on the 2001: A Space Odyssey HAL disconnection scene. It strikes me as an apt metaphor for the establishment’s pushback against the attempted dismantling of neoliberal capitalism.

Perhaps not all of the references will be crystal clear to those who haven’t seen the film, or who don’t know what particular current topic I was commenting on in each case. But enjoy and feel free to share!

look-dave-i

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The Gurgling Swan Song of the “New Democrats”

Paul Krugman’s most recent intervention in the Democratic Party primary campaign debate, and defense of the supposed pragmatism of Clinton against the idealism of Sanders, is a simple appeal to the authority of … Barack Obama.

Well, he tells us, Barack Obama seems to tilt somewhat toward Hillary Clinton’s “theory of change” too. So it must be a pretty good theory, right?

It seems to have escaped Paul Krugman’s notice that a lot people in the United States – Democrats included – do not regard the past eight years as an era of triumph and progress. Since the Clinton and Obama teams are drawn from the same Democratic Party establishment that has run the party since the 90s, and since Clinton was a member of the Obama administration and is running a campaign as a moderate, non-boat-rocking continuator of the status quo the administration represents, then I think we can take it for granted that if most Democrats were happy with the Obama approach and the status quo, there would not now be a powerful Sanders insurgency of the sort that appears to have soared far ahead in New Hampshire, and is probably ahead in Iowa as well.

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The Wailing of the Wonks

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Well, Paul Krugman is nothing if not indefatigable when he gets the political bit between his teeth, and he is aggressively keeping up his new offensive against the Sanders campaign. Now he appears to be sore about the fact that Democrats might not be listening to the “wonks” any more – or at least not the ones he wants them to listen to.

But I think many progressive Democrats have concluded that the strategy of middle-of-the-road, incremental progress based around wonk-crafted insider policy factories and establishment consensus-building is a failure. A plutocracy has the country in its grip, and as long as that is the case, we get two steps back for every one step forward. The Affordable Care Act was some progress, but it has been swamped by all the other ways in which the middle class and the working class have fallen further behind, while the economic power elite have increased their separation from everyone else. The net result of the past eight years, then, has not been incremental progress but incremental regress. Any policies the plutocracy allows the wonks to get through the bureaucracy, the ones that have been crafted somewhere inside the beltway in Willy Wonk’s Legislative Sausage Factory, will be ones the plutocracy can live with, and are therefore no real challenge to their power and successful drive for increasing control over our lives. A more grass roots and comprehensive approach to fundamental change is needed. Progressives are right in their new consensus that there is a need to mobilize to take on concentrated private capital and establishment power at their roots.

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Economic Policy Progressives Need the MMT Community to Get Its Feet on the Ground

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MMT, or Modern Monetary Theory, is an approach to macroeconomics. It is primarily the work of a handful of academic economists, including Stephanie Kelton, L. Randall Wray, Scott Fullwiler, and William Mitchell, but with important contributions coming as well from some banking and finance professionals such as Warren Mosler and Marshall Auerback. It is broadly associated with the Post-Keynesian direction in economic theory, but with important signal influences coming from a variety of specific economists, including Hyman Minsky and Abba Lerner.

I have mixed attitudes about MMT. Now is not the time to go into the details, but I will say that in my view the strengths of MMT lie in its understanding of the (fairly traditional) arguments for larger deficits and fiscal expansion as countercyclical responses to conditions of economic under-performance and unemployment, and in its strong grasp of the institutional and operations mechanics of our centralized banking system, which is a useful counterweight to some of the more obscure, purely macroeconomic approaches the monetary policy that seek to formulate policy prescriptions in abstraction from, and sometimes ignorance of, those mechanics.

However, anyone familiar with MMT in the world of economic policy discussion will have noticed that in addition to the core group of MMT theory developers, there is now a much larger MMT community, which has taken up MMT, or at least some versions of it, as a game-changing public policy cause of seemingly spectacular importance. This broader community has formed various promotional and advocacy groups, and I have regrettably come to have a somewhat dim view of a lot of the discourse that emanates from these groups. I think many of the ideas that are kicked around are often misguided and ill-informed, and in some cases deeply destructive of public policy progress insofar as they perpetuate magical thinking, and illusory, unworkable solutions to practical problems.

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