Krugman’s blog, 8/19/15

There were three posts yesterday.  The first was “How Not To Be Read (Trivial):”

A public service announcement for those who want a hearing: if you send me an email with an attached letter, which says “Please read attached letter” without any indication of what it’s about, you should know what will (or actually won’t) happen. Life is short, and if you can’t be bothered to take the time to say more, I can’t be bothered to open an attachment.

Yesterday’s second post was “Pension-cutters and Privatizers, Oh My:”

I wrote Monday about the strange phenomenon of Republicans lining up to propose cuts to Social Security, a deeply unpopular policy that is, however, also a really bad idea. How unpopular? Lee Drutman has the data: only 6 percent of American voters support Social Security cuts, while a majority want it increased. I argued that this apparent act of political self-destructiveness probably reflected an attempt to curry favor with wealthy donors, who are very much at odds with the general public on this issue:

Now we have another example: Marco Rubio has announced hishealth care plan, and it involves (a) greatly shrinking the tax deductibility of employer health benefits and (b) turning Medicare into a voucher system. Part (a) is favored by many economists, although I would argue wrongly, but would be deeply unpopular; part (b) is really terrible policy — proposed precisely at the moment when Medicare is showing that it can control costs better than private insurers! — and also deeply unpopular.

The strategy here, surely, is to propose things that voters would hate if they understood what was on the table, but hope that Fox News plus “views on shape of planet differ” reporting elsewhere will keep them confused, while at the same time pleasing mega-donors. It might even work, especially if Trump can be pushed out of the picture and the Hillary-hatred of reporters overcomes professional scruples. But it’s still amazing to watch.

The last post yesterday was “Trump in a Box:”

As pundits are discovering to their horror, there’s probably more to the Trump phenomenon than mere celebrity. The fact is that the central planks of modern conservatism — slashing taxes on the rich and benefits for the public at large — are deeply unpopular. Republicans have won elections only by wrapping these policies in other stuff; it’s about cutting benefits for welfare queens and “strapping young bucks” (that’s a Reaganism, in case you’re wondering) buying T-bone steaks with food stamps. And this in turn means that there is a sort of empty box in U.S. politics waiting to be filled.

The matrix here shows the possible positions. A welfare state available to all is the Democratic position, which is pretty much what other Western countries call the social democratic position. The dominant role in the modern GOP is played by a faction that links de facto disdain for Those People with a desire to slash social insurance. Libertarians are, in principle, small-government without the undertones; they are also basically absent from the actually existing electorate.

And then there’s the empty box. Once upon a time that box was filled by southern Democrats, who preserved Jim Crow while supporting the New Deal. But they’ve all moved over to the GOP now, and in the process become anti-social-insurance. But there are plenty of voters who want Social Security and Medicare for people who look like them, but not those other people. And at some level Trump is catering to that unserved population.

Of course, Trumpism is a really bad name for this, partly because the man himself isn’t actually coherent, partly because it’s still likely that he’s a case of hair today, gone tomorrow. And maybe nobody else will make a play for that box. But it’s also possible that we’ll see the rise of a movement that needs a better name. Hmm. How about National Social Democracy? Any problems with that?

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