“A democracy is not a graduate seminar.”

Steve Randy Waldman, Your theory of politics is wrong:

I support Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. I don’t support Sanders because I think he is brilliant in some academic way. I don’t support Sanders because I am particularly impressed with the details of his policy proposals, although they are not nearly as hopeless as some self-proclaimed technocrats make them out to be. A democracy is not a graduate seminar.

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The Plausibility of 5% Annual GDP Growth

I still remain skeptical that GDP Growth >5% is likely if were to adopt Sanders’ economic program – or any other candidates economic program.  I’m skeptical but I no longer think it’s ridiculously optimistic.  I’d call it fairly optimistic but not extremely so.  (If you’re just tuning in, the context here is that UMass economist Gerald Friedman predicting the Sanders’ economic plan could boost GDP growth to 5.3%Some well-respected economists responded that 5.3% growth is nuts.  The debate is ongoing.)   Why has my outlook changed?  Because I’ve read pieces by reality-based economists arguing that 5% is entirely plausible.  “Plausible” doesn’t mean that it would happen.  It means that it’s not unreasonable to believe that it could.   Here are the links:

I maintain that Sanders’ principal merits as a candidate have little do with what his proposals might do for economic growth but it’s worth noting that it seems reasonable to believe that they could have a strong positive effect.

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GDP will take care of itself

I noted yesterday that there is much fussing in housebroken liberal circles about UMass economist Gerald Friedman’s prediction that, if implemented, Sanders’ economic agenda would cause GDP growth to rise to 5.3%.   That’s higher than the yearly average has been since prior to WWII.   Friedman defends his prediction here.  Former MN Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota, a reality-based individual, implies that it’s not a ridiculous number:

Professor Gerald Friedman has argued here that, by adopting Senator Bernie Sanders’ economic proposals, the US economy would grow in excess of 5% per year over the next decade.   Previously, former Governor Jeb Bush put forward (different) proposals that he has argued would lead to 4% economic growth over an extended period.  These kinds of growth outcomes are often dismissed as prima face unachievable given the historical behavior of the US economy.  (That’s one way that some readers have interpreted this letter.) 

I don’t attempt a full examination of Senator Sanders’ or Mr. Bush’s proposals in this post.  Rather, I make three points related to this discussion that don’t receive sufficient attention:

  1. There is no technological reason why real gross domestic product (GDP) cannot grow at a materially above-normal rate over the next decade

  2. Given (1), the relevant issue is: are the benefits of achieving such a growth path higher than the costs of doing so?   I suggest that there are good reasons to believe that the answer to this question is more likely to be positive than at any time since the end of World War II. 

  3. If the answer to (2) is affirmative, the question becomes: what set of economic proposals will best allow the country to achieve those positive net benefits?  As noted above, I don’t attempt a detailed examination of the consequences of Senator Sanders’ proposals or those of Mr. Bush.  I only make the broad point that, given current economic circumstances, demand-based stimulus is likely to be more effective than supply-based stimulus.

I think that’s an excellent frame.  Based on how the US economy has performed over recent decades, I remain skeptical of being able to hit 5.3% with Sanders’ or anyone else’s plan but I believe Kocherlakota is right, there’s no technological reason why GDP can’t grow at a much higher rate than it has been.   There are huge political hurdles and technical challenges to generating that kind of growth but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.   And even if 5.3% isn’t in the cards I do believe we can do much better than we’ve done.  We’re at about 2% now.   Would we not be happy with 4% or even 3%?

Whether or not it’s theoretically possible to hit 5.3%, one argument against putting that number forward is that it smacks of delusional optimism and that’s not good practice.   A serious candidate should not adopt implausible policy positions [see Note 1 below].   I concur.  I also believe that whether Sanders’ economic plan would generate 5.3% growth or 3.5% or 2% growth is beside the point.   His campaign isn’t about goosing GDP, it’s about changing the rules of the game.  I doubt there are many Sanders supporters who are with him because of an expectation of any particular GDP growth rate.  It’s about changing the power dynamic to improve the quality of life for most Americans.

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Thought for the Day: February 6, 2016

Thirty five years of one step forward, two steps back is enough for me. It’s time to mount a counteroffensive. “So long as our candidate is pro-choice and supports same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization that’s good enough” isn’t good enough for me.  I’m sick of perpetual war.  I’m sick of policies which advantage capital over labor and result in decent jobs getting shipped overseas.  I’m sick of politicians who brush off the environmental destruction we’re wreaked for the past 100+ years.  All those meat and potatoes liberal declarations that Clinton has made since Sanders has challenged her? I firmly believe that she will walk them all back once she takes office. That’s where I’m coming from. I’ve had enough.

Thought for the Day: January 28, 2016

Let’s be clear: Hillary Clinton is not just a more pragmatic insidery version of Bernie Sanders, i.e. a person with the same “ideals”, but a more “realistic” approach to change. The Clintons were two of the most prominent architects of the New Democrat, Third Way, DLC reconstruction of the Democratic Partyin the 90’s. They differ with Sanders not just on political strategy and tactics, but fundamental political philosophy. The Clintons represent the continuation of neoliberalism, while Sanders represents a return to the older, traditional left ideals of an egalitarian and democratic society, where capital is placed firmly under the thumb of the democratic political community.

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Thought for the Day: January 26, 2016

Detailed policy proposals are as relevant to the election of 2016 as is that gaseous planet beyond Pluto…. This election is about changing the parameters of what’s feasible and ending the choke hold of big money on our political system.

I’ve known Hillary Clinton since she was 19 years old, and have nothing but respect for her. In my view, she’s the most qualified candidate for president of the political system we now have.

But Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have, because he’s leading a political movement for change.

The upcoming election isn’t about detailed policy proposals. It’s about power – whether those who have it will keep it, or whether average Americans will get some as well.

Robert Reich

Thought for the Day: January 25, 2016

Corey Robin:

There’s a lot of fretting — both well meaning and cynical — out there about whether Sanders can win.

Here’s the deal, people. For the last decade and a half, we’ve been treated to lecture after lecture from on high about how if you want things to change, you have to build from below. Well, that process has been going on for some time.

Unlike purists of the Left and purists of the center (who are the most insufferable purists of all, precisely because they think they’re not), I look at the various fits and starts of the last fifteen years — from Seattle to the Nader campaign to the Iraq War protests to the Dean campaign to the Obama campaign to Occupy to the various student debt campaigns to Black Lives Matter — as part of a continuum, where men and women, young and old, slowly relearn the art of politics.

Whose first rule is: if you want x, shoot for 1,000x, and whose second rule is: it’s not whether you fail (you probably will), but how you fail, whether you and your comrades are still there afterward to pick up the pieces and learn from your mistakes.

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Sanders voters

From John Judis’, The Bern Supremacy (boldface mine):

But who are the voters flock­ing to [Bernie Sanders’] mes­sage? Sanders of­ten uses the term “work­ing people” to refer to the con­stitu­ency he wants to lead. It’s a term that con­jures guys in over­alls; yet the bulk of the people at the ral­lies I at­ten­ded were col­lege stu­dents, re­cent col­lege gradu­ates, or white-col­lar pro­fes­sion­als who have the types of jobs that re­quire a col­lege or even a post-gradu­ate de­gree.

At the Sanders rally in Las Ve­gas, I in­ter­viewed about 30 people and also cir­cu­lated around the crowd. I did talk to a jan­it­or from Las Ve­gas’s mil­it­ant culin­ary uni­on and to a re­tired auto mech­an­ic from Idaho who had moved to Las Ve­gas, but the rest of the people I en­countered were stu­dents, teach­ers, sci­ent­ists, civil ser­vants, and so­cial work­ers. At a Sanders rally at George Ma­son Uni­versity in Fair­fax, Vir­gin­ia, I found a sim­il­ar crowd, with gov­ern­ment con­sult­ants, IT ad­min­is­trat­ors, and en­gin­eers also thrown in­to the mix.

These Sanders sup­port­ers are part of a strat­um of the Amer­ic­an labor force that the census des­ig­nates as “pro­fes­sion­als.” They most of­ten work for a wage or salary. They pro­duce ideas and soph­ist­ic­ated ser­vices rather than phys­ic­al goods. They work in hos­pitals and clin­ics, schools and col­leges, and, above all, of­fices. Un­like routine ser­vice work­ers, they make de­cent or even very good money. In White Col­lar, which ap­peared in 1951, C. Wright Mills labeled this group “the new middle class.” The French so­ci­olo­gist Serge Mal­let called them the “new work­ing class.” At the so­cial­ist journ­al I helped edit in the early 1970s, we called them “edu­cated labor” and part of a new “di­ver­si­fied pro­let­ari­at.”

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