Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Do You Believe in Magic?

Paul Krugman doesn't. Sad to say, me neither.

First of all, to say what should be but sometimes apparently isn’t obvious, what you would ideally want and what you think can be achieved — and even what you think should be an election platform — aren’t the same thing. What I and most of my wonk friends would like to see is what the late Robert Heilbroner used to call Slightly Imaginary Sweden — or these days, maybe Diversified Denmark. That is, a strong social safety net that protects everyone against avoidable misery, workers with substantial bargaining power, strong environmental policy; not an equalized society, not a Utopia, but someplace where basic decency is a fundamental principle.

But nothing like that is going to happen in America any time soon. If we’re going to have any kind of radical change in the next few years and probably the next couple of decades, it will come from the right, not the left.

As Matt O’Brien rightly said recently, even the incremental changes Hillary Clinton is proposing are very unlikely to get through Congress; the radical changes Bernie Sanders is proposing wouldn’t happen even if Democrats retook the House. O’Brien says that the Democratic primary is “like arguing what’s more real: a magical unicorn or a regular unicorn. In either case, you’re still running on a unicorn platform.” This is, alas, probably true: the platforms of the candidates are better seen as aspirational than as programs at all likely to happen.

Of course Krugman, like me, is an old guy. We remember that revolutions usually go badly.