Blow and Krugman

In “Harry and Sidney: Soul Brothers” Mr. Blow offers on their 90th birthdays, an ode to two of the most remarkable men of our time.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “On Economic Arrogance:”  Why do Republicans imagine they can deliver growth?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Please allow me to divert my gaze for one day away from our national political darkness and toward two national rays of light.

Monday is Sidney Poitier’s 90th birthday. His best friend of 70 years, Harry Belafonte, turns 90 on March 1.

This is an ode to and appreciation of the friendship — one of the most remarkable and resilient of our time — between two Hollywood royals.

Poitier and Belafonte didn’t meet until they were 20 years old, and yet Belafonte still considered Poitier his first real friend in life. As Belafonte put it, he lived a “nomadic” life as a child, shuttling back and forth between New York and islands of the Caribbean with his mother as she searched for work. “I did not get rooted long enough to develop what many people have the joy of experiencing, and that is childhood friends.”

The two men met at the American Negro Theatre, where Poitier worked as a janitor while studying with the company and where Belafonte worked as a stagehand. This was where they became performers.

The two men quickly broke through to each other, in part because they had so much in common. Not only were they the same age, they were both born to parents of West Indian heritage, enabling them to see the absurdity of racism in America from within and without and to bring a quasi-Pan-African sensibility to the African-American experience.

They shared the charmingly ordinary experiences that young friends share, like sneaking into the theater on the same ticket, each seeing half of a show, then filling each other in afterward on the half the other had missed. They called it “sharing the burden and the joy.”

And yet, by leaning on each other, supporting each other (Belafonte counseled Poitier though the dissolution of his marriage, which ended during his nine-year affair with actress Diahann Carroll), pushing each other, and yes, competing with each other (the first time Poitier was cast in a role, he was Belafonte’s understudy), they would both find tremendous popular success. Each man often took roles that the other had turned down or didn’t get.

In the 1950s Belafonte was dubbed the “King of Calypso” after his breakthrough album Calypso became the first LP in America to sell a million copies. In the early 1960s, Poitier became the first African-American to win the best actor Academy Award.

Even at the height of their success both men made an indelible mark on the Civil Rights Movement and changed the very idea of black masculinity.

In 1964, Belafonte convinced a hesitant Poitier to help him deliver $70,000 stuffed into a doctor’s bag to Freedom Summer volunteers in the South. They were met by Klansmen who chased them and fired guns at them. As one website put it, referring to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, “The trip ‘solidified Poitier’s commitment to SNCC,’ and he would become the symbol of the group’s goals for African-Americans.”

For Belafonte’s part, he formed a committee to support the movement and raised thousands of dollars to help bail the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. out of jail, pay for the release of arrested protesters, help finance freedom rides and bankroll SNCC.

Belafonte and Poitier helped organize the March on Washington and helped plan King’s memorial after he was assassinated.

As for their impact on black masculinity, Belafonte has said of Poitier, “I don’t think anyone [else] in the world could have been anointed with the responsibility of creating a whole new image of black people, and especially black men.” In truth, Belafonte is being needlessly self-effacing here, because both he and Poitier accomplished this feat.

I’ve met both men and was enthralled by each. The first time I heard Belafonte speak in person, he spoke so eloquently and passionately that I was sure that he was reading a speech. He wasn’t. The next time I saw him I rehearsed a fan speech in my mind as I approached him, but before I could utter a word, he said to me, “I’m such a fan.” Mind. Blown.

When I was on my book tour, Poitier invited me to dinner in Beverly Hills. He was the most charming and graceful person I’ve ever met, famous or not. He told me: “I’m adopting you. I don’t have any sons. I have six daughters.” He insisted that I sign the book for him and his wife: “To Mom and Dad.”

Belafonte and Poitier demonstrated over a lifetime how celebrities could embody activism as well as the quiet power of dignity and grace.

King once said of Poitier: “He is a man of great depth, a man of great social concern, a man who is dedicated to human rights and freedom. Here is a man who, in the words we so often hear now, is a soul brother.”

In fact, I think that is what Poitier and Belafonte found in each other: a soul brother. Happy birthday, gentlemen.

Now, after that lovely bit of relief from our ongoing national nightmare, here’s Prof. Krugman:

According to press reports, the Trump administration is basing its budget projections on the assumption that the U.S. economy will grow very rapidly over the next decade — in fact, almost twice as fast as independent institutions like the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve expect. There is, as far as we can tell, no serious analysis behind this optimism; instead, the number was plugged in to make the fiscal outlook appear better.

I guess this was only to be expected from a man who keeps insisting that crime, which is actually near record lows, is at a record high, that millions of illegal ballots were responsible for his popular vote loss, and so on: In Trumpworld, numbers are what you want them to be, and anything else is fake news. But the truth is that unwarranted arrogance about economics isn’t Trump-specific. On the contrary, it’s the modern Republican norm. And the question is why.

Before I get there, a word about why extreme growth optimism is unwarranted.

The Trump team is apparently projecting growth at between 3 and 3.5 percent for a decade. This wouldn’t be unprecedented: the U.S. economy grew at a 3.4 percent rate during the Reagan years, 3.7 percent under Bill Clinton. But a repeat performance is unlikely.

For one thing, in the Reagan years baby boomers were still entering the work force. Now they’re on their way out, and the rise in the working-age population has slowed to a crawl. This demographic shift alone should, other things being equal, subtract around a percentage point from U.S. growth.

Furthermore, both Reagan and Clinton inherited depressed economies, with unemployment well over 7 percent. This meant that there was a lot of economic slack, allowing rapid growth as the unemployed went back to work. Today, by contrast, unemployment is under 5 percent, and other indicators suggest an economy close to full employment. This leaves much less scope for rapid growth.

The only way we could have a growth miracle now would be a huge takeoff in productivity — output per worker-hour. This could, of course, happen: maybe driverless flying cars will arrive en masse. But it’s hardly something one should assume for a baseline projection.

And it’s certainly not something one should count on as a result of conservative economic policies. Which brings me to the strange arrogance of the economic right.

As I said, belief that tax cuts and deregulation will reliably produce awesome growth isn’t unique to the Trump-Putin administration. We heard the same thing from Jeb Bush (who?); we hear it from congressional Republicans like Paul Ryan. The question is why. After all, there is nothing — nothing at all — in the historical record to justify this arrogance.

Yes, Reagan presided over pretty fast growth. But Bill Clinton, who raised taxes on the rich, amid confident predictions from the right that this would cause an economic disaster, presided over even faster growth. President Obama presided over much more rapid private-sector job growth than George W. Bush, even if you leave out the 2008 collapse. Furthermore, two Obama policies that the right totally hated – the 2013 hike in tax rates on the rich, and the 2014 implementation of the Affordable Care Act – produced no slowdown at all in job creation.

Meanwhile, the growing polarization of American politics has given us what amount to economic policy experiments at the state level. Kansas, dominated by conservative true believers, implemented sharp tax cuts with the promise that these cuts would jump-start rapid growth; they didn’t, and caused a budget crisis instead. Last week Kansas legislators threw in the towel and passed a big tax hike.

At the same time Kansas was turning hard right, California’s newly dominant Democratic majority raised taxes. Conservatives declared it “economic suicide” — but the state is in fact doing fine.

The evidence, then, is totally at odds with claims that tax-cutting and deregulation are economic wonder drugs. So why does a whole political party continue to insist that they are the answer to all problems?

It would be nice to pretend that we’re still having a serious, honest discussion here, but we aren’t. At this point we have to get real and talk about whose interests are being served.

Never mind whether slashing taxes on billionaires while giving scammers and polluters the freedom to scam and pollute is good for the economy as a whole; it’s clearly good for billionaires, scammers, and polluters. Campaign finance being what it is, this creates a clear incentive for politicians to keep espousing a failed doctrine, for think tanks to keep inventing new excuses for that doctrine, and more.

And on such matters Donald Trump is really no worse than the rest of his party. Unfortunately, he’s also no better.

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