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Paul Krugman on the ‘Conscience of a Liberal’

Posted on Nov 16, 2007
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AP photo / Katsumi Kasahara

By James Harris

(Page 2)

Harris: ... and Fridays, for the Times, and yesterday you wrote something that probably would resonate very well with a lot of minority communities.  I’ll share the quote: “Most Americans have now regained their balance. But the Republican base, which lapped up the administration’s rhetoric about the axis of evil and the war on terror, remains infected by the fear the Bushies stirred up—perhaps because fear of terrorists maps so easily into the base’s older fears, including fear of dark-skinned people in general.”  Now this is something black people have been saying for a long time now ...

Krugman: Oh, sure.

Harris: ... Latino people.  What encouraged the economist to say this?

Krugman: I wrote “The Conscience of a Liberal,” my new book, and the centrality of race to American politics, the centrality of race to right-wing successes, is just overwhelming.  Almost everything—if you look at the numbers.  Once you take account of the fact that Southern whites switched sides after the civil rights movement, there isn’t much left to explain in American political trends.  And you look: the profile of people who are fiercely anti-immigrant is the same as the people who are fiercely anti-African-American and they are the same people who are hysterical over the terrorist threat and to a degree it’s a real threat.  And they map it in.  Look at all the hysteria: “We must not let terrorists come in from Mexico.”  Now, how many Catholic Mexican Islamic terrorists have you actually seen?  Right?  But this is that same—the lumping it all together, the Other.  The Alien.


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Harris: Which is postmodern thinking, what we fear. 

Krugman: Right.

Harris: We fear the Other.  So tell me a little bit about your new book, “The Conscience of a Liberal.”  Shouldn’t an economist be a centrist, at best?

Krugman: Oh, no.  Economists are people—not all of them, but most of us are people.  And you have a view, you have your ideals.  Economics doesn’t tell you what your ideals should be.  Liberal.  So it’s about ideals and how you think society should be.  I’m a liberal because I believe in democracy in the broad sense: economic as well as political.  I think that’s what it comes down to.  The argument in the book is that middle-class society has been unraveled by people who wanted it to.  They wanted greater inequality.  They actually sought a second Gilded Age.  I quote Grover Norquist —people don’t know him—the great tax cutter. He wants to bring things back to the way it was before Teddy Roosevelt and the socialists came in.  So he really wants to undo the whole 20th century.  And that they actually had a big effect in causing our society to become more unequal, through everything from tax policy to labor policy.  And the way they win elections, sometimes it’s moral values, national defense—Bush won in 2004 by running against gay married terrorists.  But the real, the underlying, consistent source of their success has been race.

Harris: I’d love to hear your opinion.  You look at the weak dollar, you look at the looming crisis.  It does not look very good, economically speaking, for the U.S.  Where does this all end, and does it change greatly in ‘08 or are we in for a long-term of—?

Krugman: My central forecast is that we’re not in for an outright recession, or not a severe one if it is, but we’re in for a long period of trouble.  And the reason is, a lot of the bad, subprime— the bad lending took place in the final frenzy of the housing bubble.  So there’s all lending that took place in ‘05-06.  All of the mortgage resets are just starting now and they run all the way through next year.  So that’s where the tough stuff is going to be.  The weak dollar doesn’t bother me so much.  It’s not a catastrophe, but it’s going [to be] a troubled couple of years.

Harris: OK.  Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist, thank you.  Be sure to pick up a copy of the new book, “The Conscience of a Liberal,” a book I consider a necessity for anyone trying to take charge of their social or financial well-being.  This is James Harris saying thank you for tuning in to another edition of Truthdig.

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By 2tonechaos, December 28, 2007 at 10:07 am Link to this comment

Amen! Preach on, brother DennisD! Hallelujah! that is a brilliant, relevant opening to a very concise and thoroughly defensible argument against any form of that odious form of utterly pretentious violation of basic personal rights that Liberalism most assuredly is. One could even, should such an inclination be felt, quite easily take the argument to its logical conclusion—namely that free-market anarchy is the only method of civil structuring that even approaches an ability to guarantee preservation of any/everyone’s rights on any semblance of a long term basis. (Note: though it must be stated that one would share such a conclusion with others at the cost of an inevitable drop in the defensibility factor…BUT only rhetorically—which element actually ultimately has no independent bearing on matters of fact since, exactly like the concept of politics, rhetoric deals not in logic and truth, but rather achieves its gains by exploiting/manipulating general public perceptions and subjective opinions/beliefs.)

This element (i.e., the coddling of anyone in distress, shielding everyone from the most ubiquitous of basic natural mechanisms for learning and becoming responsible/self-sufficient: experiencing the consequences of one’s actions, the thoroughly condescending ASSumption that everyone is incapable of leading a productive and fulfilling life of independence—or otherwise attempted justification for rounding everyone down to the lowest common denominator and piling on more insult/violation of essential rights by requiring by law that everyone participate in their disastrous and ineffectual shot(s) at playing Holy Savior of everyone…) is all the more poignant/useful in that it avoids having to become entangled in semantical arguments over whether or not the term ‘socialism’ is in fact an accurate description of the principals at the heart of such liberal strategic scourges (and oh yes, friends and neighbors—it very much is accurate), mainly by simply tip-toeing neatly around the concept altogether while still showcasing the dangerously misanthropic nature of such disingenuous acts of theft and coercion.

(And of course, having made such a point effectively, one can always, with their foot now in the door, go on to gingerly show how it really is socialism…then ultimately unleash the proverbial dogs of war by listing off the nearly countless other ways that socialism utterly destroys an entire society on all fronts and every level!)

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By DennisD, December 25, 2007 at 2:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Harris: ... whether it was half a million dollars, whether it was a million dollars.  Do they deserve to be bailed out?
Krugman: Yeah, they do, because, look, a lot of what happened was that there was deceptive advertising.”

Both of you let me know when my bail out is coming for buying what I could afford, making my payments and actually reading the f**king loan papers. 

This no one is responsible for their own screw ups has to end. Just where is the money coming from other than Mr./Mrs./Ms etc. taxpayer for this wonderful bailout of the unfortunates. For anyone that thinks we the taxpayer isn’t going to have to pay for this - what do you think dumping more confetti(dollars) into the system does to value of your current dollar.

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By voice of truth, December 11, 2007 at 5:38 am Link to this comment


I know exactly where my money is invested, including my self-directed 401(k) and IRA.  I’m not stupid enough to think that I can live off Social Security, or that it will even be there when I retire.

And yet, nowhere in your post do you even get to the point of the comment, that the liberal conscience states that no one has to be responsible for themselves!!

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By Novista, December 11, 2007 at 4:44 am Link to this comment

@ voice of truth

While you’re slagging off on people not as smart as you, I wonder if you know where and how your pension funds are invested? Or your money market investment, you know, that area which was supposed to be limited to low-risk areas?

Only they bent the rules, just like Fannie and Freddie.

And what of prime mortgage borrowers, who were responsible, except for a little major medical problem or loss of job? Maybe they should have known better, ya reckon?

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By voice of truth, December 4, 2007 at 1:26 pm Link to this comment

2tone, you actually described Algore and this band of blathering global warmers.  No gas or electricity for you, because I need to take my private jet to a conference in Bali!

Back to Krugman, who for an economics professor really has no idea of how one works.  I love his comment above, about the fatuous idiot who wants to buy a house, but doesn’t understand how the mortgage works.  And Krugman even goes so far as to intimate that they shouldn’t even have to know how it works (“2/28s, two-year concessional rates, blah, blah, blah”).  HOLY CRAP, if you can’t even listen or try to understand the parameters of the largest purchase you have ever made, it really doesn’t matter if the lender is being deceptive.

The point is these people are completely lacking in personaly responsibility and that, my friends, is the essence of ‘Conscience of a Liberal’.  Don’t worry about f’ing up, you’re too much of an idiot to have done it right anyway, and it’s not your fault, and the government will take someone else’s money to fix it.  La La-La La-la.  Isn’t life great??

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By Anthony Look, November 21, 2007 at 5:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If I recall Carter took the opposite tack; interest rates when up and basically a tough love economic policy was put into play and the economy balanced out. This should prove interesting, but; personally I see it as throwing money at the same people that caused the problem to begin with; hmmm I guess we can trust them. Its amazing, Bush ruins everything he endeavors; and all the kings horses and all the kings men; could not stop this clown once again.

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By cyrena, November 20, 2007 at 12:11 am Link to this comment

#114531 by 2tonechaos


Excellent post. I definitely get your point.

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By 2tonechaos, November 19, 2007 at 1:00 pm Link to this comment

Can I just mention, concerning a point made in this interview, that most liberals are fatuous idiots?(Don’t worry—liberals are far from being the only ones…they have the ample company of the vast majority of all mainstream political adherents, from Joe Schmoe to blathering pundits—hooray for bipartisanship!) I hate to resort to name-calling (note: I said “MOST liberals”). But if the shoe fits then, hell—try on the other one & take those suckers for a stroll around the store a few times! Do you half-wits ever look at the actions of people like Greenspan, or 99.9% of everyone claiming to be a Rand devotee (which is just the tip of the conservative iceberg regarding political claims that don’t square with actual policies/actions)? Go to any Republican meeting/function & you can’t even take a step without running into another hoard of disingenuous “conservatives” who still spout small government/free market rhetoric of traditional conservatism as they advocate interventionism & massive central planning via the wonders of bureaucracy such as the Fed, Department of Homeland Security, & literally hundreds of other invasions in our lives. (Reagan was the master of talking quite a boisterous amount of such talk, while increasing the size of the government & expanding its meddling in the market with every step he ever took.) Yet when everything goes sour, the face value of their undeniably false rhetoric is paraded around by every liberal commentator, used as some sort of justification for their own talking points & intentions…when what the facts indicate is rather that the actions of such faux “conservatives”, while disastrously destructive & ill-fated, prove the tone of their (true conservative) rhetoric to be quite likely true, since they acted opposite their words & failed. 

Let me put it in terms a liberal might more easily grasp…let’s say there was a person who was particularly well-known as an advocate of a natural lifestyle. They’ve published several books on the benefits that come from eating natural, unprocessed, fresh foods free of hormones, pesticides, preservatives, etc. They have traveled all over the world to conventions, speaking engagements, festivals—you name it—preaching the good word of the vastly beneficial effects of herbal medicine/dietary supplements, organic foods, etc., & the horrors of the ubiquitous scientifically-processed drugs & food additives. Now let’s say this person also quite openly eats McDonald’s every day, & has stock in the company as well. They’ve openly lobbied for legislation requiring all children be tested for things like ADHD & legally forcing all parents with children testing positive for such “ailments” to keep them on a regular regimen of every chemical contrivance the conglomerates can come up with to treat (never cure) all of everyone’s ills & keep them bound to their local pharmacy for life. What’s more, the person also endorses such drugs & takes a hefty handful of various cholesterol-lowering, mood-enhancing, restless limb-calming, herpes outbreak-suppressing monstrosities every single day. Now, dear Liberals, tell me this: when this person has a heart attack & is found, upon postmortem examination, to have been riddled with cancer & 37 other horrible diseases, how much grounds is there for a bunch of SUV-driving Christian busy-bodies to scream “See! I told you so! That’s what eating a natural organic diet & living a tree-hugging lifestyle will get you!”...? If you said “Absolutely none, whatsoever” then you & I are in agreement.

Now take that & apply it to the rhetoric/action-divide of the majority of contemporary “Conservatives”. Sure Greenspan talks a lot of libertarian free-market talk. But he has yet to ever walk the walk in any minute way, no matter how loud his words are. Take a look at someone’s actions & stop buying into the rhetoric on this stuff…‘cuz it makes you look like a fatuous idiot. Period.

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