Friday, February 24, 2012

Fridays are wonderful days. First of all Fridays are the portal of the week-end; we can look forward to be freed of the constraints of daily drudgery and wallow in the mundane details of a different kind. At least we do not have to think of setting the alarm clock unless we want to get to the gym early.

Today is Friday and I had a different kind of pleasure: reading columns by David Brooks and by Paul Krugman, facing each other across the Op-Ed page of the New York Times and in agreement on the dreaminess, hollowness, and plain falsehood of the political discourse in this election cycle. The demands of the extreme right, the media frenzy on reducing government spending, making government smaller, the growth through attrition mantra are delusional and the political class, the economists, the decision-makers know it. The people running for office also know it, but because we have this wide disconnect between what can really be done and what can be promised to be done, they obfuscate, dither and outright lie.

On the right of the argument and the left of the op-ed page, David Brooks, in a book report, sort of, on Bruce Bartlett's "the Benefit and the Burden", provocatively titled "America is Europe" establishes that the US welfare state is as big or bigger that anything the much derided European system can produce. But, because of the unpopularity of government expenditures the payouts are clad as tax breaks. Thus, politicians can claim success in "addressing problem after problem, but none of their efforts show up as unpopular spending."

Paul Krugman, on his right hand column, talks about "Romney's Economic Closet", and feeds off Mitt's apparently impromptu remark in Michigan " you cut spending, you'll slow down the economy." Somehow, we always come back to Keynes. Again Mr. Krugman writes: "Modern Republicans detest Keynes", probably because Keynes laid down the fundamental reasoning of modern, twentieth century economists. The Laffer curve, supply side economics and other such fictions so beloved by the right wing, are, according to Mr. Krugman, dismissed by Mankiw, one of the most prominent of Romney's economic advisors, as the doctrine of "charlatans and cranks".

This is the pickle barrel that Republicans are in, this election season. They are preaching pious austerity, the wholesomeness of suffering imposed on others, knowing that their discourse will solve none of our problems. And that is our biggest problem.