Monday, November 19, 2012

Again, Krugman Has the Answer

Despite my excuses about not blogging much during the campaign (and especially the last 6 weeks or so of it), I was, of course, thinking about All the Things™; I just didn’t have time (or mental space) to write my thinkings down. What I did have time for, occasionally, was posting articles and columns to my Facebook timeline... and one of the people I most often shared that way was Paul Krugman, who often seemed to crystallize the things most on my own mind. Again, today, he's come to my philosophical aid.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about has been my growing frustration with the fact that it has become so common — right, left, or center — to discuss economic policy in terms, first and foremost, of what will work. This is, I think, a category error: Economic policy should serve the needs of society, and our society is not some sterile engineering project whose only purpose is to function well in a mechanical sense. Instead, society is a moral imperative: We join together to collectively guarantee each other’s rights, and for our mutual defense and support… including material support.

As such, the first goal of economic policy ought to be to help realize the moral imperative to which our very society is devoted… which is to say, the first goal of economic policy ought to be economic justice. The “engineering project” part — making things actually work — is crucial, of course, but it is secondary to, and in the service of, that first goal.

Too often, though, the “solutions” to our economic challenges offered, even by ostensibly progressive voices, have been entirely focused on making the numbers work, and not focused much at all on the human justice issues behind the numbers. You know, that “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” stuff? The part about “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”? Does it really honor those founding principles to slash our collective spending on the social support mechanisms for a minimally dignified, happy human life? To stop helping our neighbors who are poor or homeless or unemployed or sick or hungry? To force our parents and grandparents to stay on the job well into their allegedly golden years, and then force them to become part-time financial managers and insurance analysts once they are retired, in lieu of taking care of them in a secure, life-affirming way?

No, our first obligation is to craft a society that truly honors those founding principles, and that puts in place a sturdy floor to resist downward pressure on human dignity and material wellbeing. Only then should we begin to worry about how to pay for it. If we’re honest, and truly keep this moral imperative first among our priorities rather than venerating the individual success of those among us who are already the most fortunate, we will find that we really can afford it. As Paul Krugman reminds us, “economic justice and economic growth aren’t incompatible.” We seem to have forgotten that, Krugman notes, but he points out that…
America in the 1950s made the rich pay their fair share; it gave workers the power to bargain for decent wages and benefits; yet contrary to right-wing propaganda then and now, it prospered. And we can do that again.
I believe he’s right: We can do it again. I hope enough of us believe it to make it so.

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