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James Galbraith for President

After reading James Galbraith’s speech in Selise’s diary, my sense is that the U.S. needs as its President an articulate master of the Keynes economic tradition. Galbraith seems the best of these strategically (though there are quite a few other cool economists to choose from (despite their systematic ouster from a failed ‘mainstream’ economics)). Galbraith’s the second-best-known left economist in the U.S. after Paul Krugman (who surely would not give up his NYT job for a long-shot Presidential campaign), he ‘looks Presidential’ when he’s shorn of his beard, he’s a vice-president of an important and reassuringly traditional liberal organization, Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), he’s a good enough public speaker, and he might actually be pissed off enough to run. Also, he’s neither Ralph Nader nor Dennis Kucinich, one of whom is too old, the other untrustworthy and non-presidential, and both of whom (unfortunately) seem or would seem perennial candidate jokes to ‘bedrock America’.


Yeah, I know, Galbraith seems very conventional and even a little boring and ‘not rad enough, dude!’, but here’s the deal: the only effective left attack in 2012 on a now right-wing Democratic Party — and one that is absolutely necessary to make — will be on its failed economic policy. Attacking the disastrously ineffective ‘market fundamentalist’ economics that nurses both parties is where a third, left alternative could find real resonance with however much of the American public we can get to hear it. (And, hell, if the Republicans win in 2012 and then their economic policies (of course) drastically fail, that leaves ‘us Galbraithians’ as the logical alternative, right?) So, I appreciate that Galbraith, through his leadership at ADA (see its policy positions here), indicates that he is a mainstream though dovish liberal on everything but economics. (Hey, correct me if I’m wrong…) That clean, boring, respectable vibe puts the focus where it needs to be, where it has to be: rescuing the economy from the vultures and the scammers, i.e., the rich and the corporations.

Dovish, though, because Galbraith is also Chair of Economists for Peace and Security. The group, by the way, has just pointed out that the premise for the bipartisan cut the deficit drive is false and the policy stupid and incredibly destructive. Specifically, its statement sez:

Deficit spending is normal for a great industrial nation with a managed currency, and it has been our normal economic condition throughout the past century. History proves, and sensible economic theory confirms, that in recessions, increased federal spending — not balancing the budget — is the tried and true way to return to a path of sustained growth and high employment.

More imporantly, as a practical “will he do it” matter, Galbraith appears to have given up hope on Barack Obama, so he might really want to challenge him next year:

President Obama has set his course. He has surrounded himself with the advisers of his choice and as he moves to replace [Larry] Summers we hear from the press that the priority is to “repair the rift with his investors on Wall Street.” What does that tell you? It tells me that he does not have President Clinton’s fighting and survival instincts. I’ve not heard one good reason all day to believe that we are going to see from this White House the fight that we want, … or any reason we should be backing him now.

The Democratic Party has become too associated with Wall Street. This is a fact. It is a structural problem. It seems to me that we as progressives need — this is my personal position — we need to draw a line and decide that we would be better off with an under-funded, fighting progressive minority party than a party marked by obvious duplicity and constant losses on every policy front as a result of the reversals in our own leadership.

Well then, let’s welcome Galbraith to lead one of those existing progressive minority parties, or ask him to be the man who Democratic primaries Obama, or let’s make a new party for him that he can lead into the November 2012 presidential election. Any of the above works for me. The stakes are high, a point which Galbraith makes very well (though I have deleted his unecessary and strategically boneheaded pessimism):

First, it seems to me that we as progressives need to make an honorable defense of the great legacies of the New Deal and Great Society — programs and institutions that brought America out of the Great Depression and brought us through the Second World War, brought us to our period of greatest prosperity, and the greatest advances in social justice. Social Security, Medicare, housing finance — the front-line right now is the foreclosure crisis, the crisis, I should say, of foreclosure fraud — the progressive tax code, anti-poverty policy, public investment, public safety, and human and civil rights. …

Beyond this, bold proposals are what we should be advancing now; even when they lose, they have their value. We can talk about job programs; we can talk about an infrastructure bank; we can talk about Juliet Schor’s idea of a four-day work week; we can talk about my idea of expanding Social Security and creating an early retirement option so that people who are older and unemployed or anxious to get out of the labor force can leave on comfortable terms, and so create job openings for younger people who, as we’ve heard today, are facing very long periods of extremely aggravating and frustrating unemployment; we can talk about establishing a systematic program of general revenue sharing to support state and local governments, we can talk about the financial restructuring we so desperately need and that we’ll have to have if we are going to have a country which has a viable private credit system and in which large financial power is not constantly dictating the terms of every political maneuver.

… And then, frankly, as was said … most elegantly by Jeff Madrick, in the long run we need to recognize that the fate of the entire country is at stake. Its governance can’t be entrusted indefinitely to incompetents, hacks, and lobbyists. Large countries can and do fail, they have done so in our own time. And the consequences are very grave: drastic declines in services, in living standards, in life expectancies, huge increases in social tension, in repression, and in violence. These are the consequences of following through with crackpot ideas such as those embodied in the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission, as Jeff Madrick again outlined, such notions as putting arbitrary limits on the scale of government, or arbitrary limits on the top tax rate affecting the wealthiest Americans.

You can’t fight the madness with Obama’s Clintonian triangulation. We know where that led and leads again, the dreaded ratchet effect. Anyway, I say JAMES GALBRAITH, COME ON DOWN! Any suggestions for further action much appreciated.

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