Friday, July 15, 2011

Robert Reich and Surfing Analogies

In his recent post The Rise of the Wrecking Ball Right Reich says:

1. what government does that helps average people is now so deeply woven into the thread of daily life that it's no longer recognizable as government

2. We've had 30 years of relentless government-hating and baiting, supported by hundreds of millions of dollars from big business interests, convincing the public that government is evil.

3. There has been an abject failure of the Democratic Party - from the President on down - to make the case for why government is necessary

I think all these points are right, and it explains why making the case for government is tough. Yet it's clearly a job we must do. The reason we don't hear Obama or individual elected officials talk about the good things government does more often is that such talk doesn't get them elected. It's up to us to create a groundswell narrative of all the reasons why the social democratic state is worthwhile, worth keeping, worth improving, and worth paying for. We need a groundswell wave that politicians can ride. The wave is out there, made by economists like Reich, Krugman, De Long, and Cummings, and publications like the New York Review of Books and the New York Times. It's just not feeling bottom yet.

If politicians thought they could get votes by making the case, they would. There is a reason they are abject. Therefore, it's up to each one of us to do this: at work, on Facebook, in Church, on the beach, everywhere. The disadvantage we have is that big business won't help. I asked my friend who works at Morgan Stanley why they, as an organization, don't go on record to support additional stimulus to grow the economy, and then bring the deficit down responsibly when employment is up. Since that is what the economy needs, since that's the way to avoid double dips and lost decades, why would Morgan Stanley not support this? He could not provide an answer, but I suspect the answer is that double dips and lost decades are not necessarily bad for Morgan Stanley. This is less obviously true for the construction industry, and Apple, and Ford. Yet big business is generally chiming in with the Rush Limbaugh chorus; they are not touting the merits of Keynes and the social democratic state. When they feel Republicans have gone too far, as when they threaten the full faith and credit of the U.S. debt, they apply pressure discreetly. Why is that?

It would be a lot easier for us, and, yes, politicians too, to make the case that our government is generally worth preserving (and paying for) if we got some help from the business community. If Krugman and Reich are correct, and I think they are, this is in the long term best interest of big business. Why has the ride of big business pearled? To catch the next wave in the sweet spot, business doesn't need small government, it needs efficient and effective government that looks after everyone. A government that Grover Norquist can drown in the bathtub isn't good for business, and surfing is lousy in the bathtub!

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