Monday, August 30, 2010

"Fiscal Conservatives Really Cannot Be Taken Seriously"

From the New York Times blog Economix, courtesy of
the Huffington Post news wire:

A vocal class of people — including some at the upper end of the income distribution – incessantly insist that entitlements must be cut while refusing to address the real causes of both our recent surge in government debt (the financial crisis, caused by perverse incentives in the financial system) and the genuine longer-term issues we face (which are about controlling the future increase in health care costs, not cutting the level of benefits today).

The self-described fiscal conservatives really cannot be taken seriously. In the financial reform debate, they either didn’t show up or preferred to keep the existing system in place, and they refuse to put serious health cost control measures on the table.

If the “conservatives” don’t really want to reduce the shocks that have caused government debt to explode recently — or to deal with the underlying, longstanding health care cost issues in a reasonable fashion — what exactly is going on?


The essay goes on to observe that such conservative behavior looks very much like the politically dishonest "
starve the beast" strategy championed by Grover Norquist and countless others, and I have no doubt that a lot of these austerity people are on board with this scorched earth plan. I also have no doubt that a lot of support for massive benefit cuts coupled with massive tax cuts for the rich, while doing nothing else at all, comes from people who honestly believe that this is the high road to economic prosperity.

But how can they believe such nonsense in the face of real world issues like a totally fucked up financial system and health care costs that continually outpace inflation? I mean, conservatives don't appear to think that these issues are problems--they don't even talk about them.

Since the financial crisis hit a few years ago I've written a lot about
Keynesian economics and its real world success in reviving consumer demand with massive stimuli, but the fiscal conservatives act as though they've never read any history--they mockingly dismiss such ideas as "socialism" without really engaging in any debate about them. More recently, taking cues from economist Paul Krugman, I've written about the stupidity of the deficit panic and inflation fears, even though Treasury securities continue to be highly valued, and inflation isn't even on the radar screen. That is, these issues aren't that complicated. I've got a pretty good layman's handle on them with nothing beyond a macro-economics 101 course on my transcript. I mean, you can disagree if you want, but conservatives aren't even doing that. They're just ignoring anything and anyone outside their intellectually constructed reality.

This makes sense if you're Grover Norquist, but is utterly senseless if you're an otherwise rational human being who is truly concerned with creating a good economy. Nearly a month ago I asserted that rank-and-file conservatives act this way more for reasons of identity than for reasons of intellectual inquisitiveness--despite all the evidence, they believe the way they do because it makes them feel good. That's one way to put it. Here's an impolite, but probably more accurate, way to put it: conservatives are fucking stupid.

I mean, lots of liberals are stupid, too, but this particular kind of stupidity, continuing to believe in magic economy fairies well after they have been proven to be the stuff of mythology, belongs exclusively these days to the right wing. It's time to end the presumption that conservatives, being greedy bastards by nature, instinctively understand economics better than liberals. Because, you know, you just can't take them seriously anymore.