Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fanatical Centrism watch -- inevitable Washington Post Edition

Sometimes, it's the juxtaposition...

Clicking through Economist's View this morning, I came across this bailing-against-the-tide passage from Paul Krugman:

If this sounds familiar, if it reminds you of the problem of partisanship in U.S. politics, it should. There are close parallels, as well there might be, since the trouble in macro is in effect a symptom of this wider political war. And there’s another parallel: many of those decrying the conflict within macro without facing up to the real sources of that conflict are playing the same unhelpful role being played by fanatical centrists within the punditocracy. (And no, “fanatical centrist” is not an oxymoron). 
By now, the centrist dodge ought to be familiar. A Very Serious, chin-stroking pundit argues that what we really need is a political leader willing to concede that while the economy needs short-run stimulus, we also need to address long-term deficits, and that addressing those long-term deficits will require both spending cuts and revenue increases. And then the pundit asserts that both parties are to blame for the absence of such leaders. What he absolutely won’t do is endanger his centrist credentials by admitting that the position he’s just outlined is exactly, exactly, the position of Barack Obama.

From this, I went on to this op-ed from Linda J. Bilmes and Shelby Chodos

Twenty-five years ago, President Ronald Reagan angered many Democrats with a broad effort to eliminate red tape and allow states discretion over federal grants. He called it the New Federalism. A half-century earlier, President Franklin Roosevelt angered many Republicans by using federal dollars to put millions back to work through a variety of programs that became known as the New Deal. 
Although we think of these two presidents and their initiatives as ideological opposites, there is no law of nature (or of economics) that prevents us from combining their ideas to help address the faltering economy today. A Reagan-Roosevelt approach — a sort of decentralized recovery that sends money directly to the states — has the best chance of putting people back to work and making America stronger.

So why not reroute the traffic away from Washington? Instead of more top-down stimulus with another emphasis on “shovel-ready” jobs or Washington pet projects, President Obama should appeal directly to the nation’s 50 governors by proposing a direct grant to each state to spend as it sees fit. 
A state-directed recovery initiative would be the quickest, easiest way to reduce unemployment and get the economy moving again. Congress would simply distribute money to the states, based on population and with no strings attached. Each state could use these funds however it chooses, whether by cutting taxes on small business and families, or by investing in education or infrastructure. This is far simpler than the Obama administration’s proposed American Jobs Act — which, despite many attractive features, reads like a laundry list of federally inspired programs.

With millions of Americans unemployed and a taxes-and-spending battle looming at the end of the year, Congress needs to take action before the federal budget becomes convulsed with fighting among special interest groups. In the teeth of the Great Depression, 1932 marked the first time a young Ronald Reagan voted for FDR. That same year, Justice Louis Brandeis called the states our “laboratories of democracy.” Today, in that spirit of bipartisanship, it is time to let the states be our laboratories of recovery.
If Krugman were to rewrite this as a parody of professional centrism I'm not sure what he'd feel the need to change. He certainly wouldn't have to tweak the proposal itself. Bilmes and Chodos already taken a major Obama talking point ("Let's give money to the states"), made some meaningless distinction (based on the apparent assumption that money isn't fungible) and completely ignored the fact that there's no way that this will ever get past the House Republicans. Nor would Krugman have to change the language or the tone with its appeal to bipartisanship, decrying of special interests and disapproval of Congress in general, but of course, no party in particular.

We really are beyond the point of satire.

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