The Conscience of a Liberal Summary
Revision as of 17:58, 6 November 2008 by Alex (Reverted edits by Alex (Talk); changed back to last version by Boethius)
The Conscience of a Liberal by Paul Krugman
Chapter 1: The Way We Were (by Jerry)
In opening his call for new social welfare infrastructure in America, Krugman describes how he joined many Americans in protesting the country during one of its greatest times, the 1950s and 60s. Krugman does not discount the necessity and importance of the Civil Rights and anti-war protests, but in academically-developed hindsight, he illustrates that America transitioned from a pre World War II era of economic disparity to a post-war era of vast economic equality. Krugman contends that Roosevelt's New Deal policies, coupled with unprecedented bipartisan cooperation throughout American governmental institutions, blessed the country with these pecuniary fortunes, thereby creating the middle class. After discussing America's bounty during the 1950s and 60s, the author begins to develop his theory regarding its collapse: movement conservatism.
Krugman defines movement conservatism as a radical force that possessed the Republican party with the drive to regenerate the pre World War II inequality in America by repealing the New Deal measures that created the middle class. The author asserts that movement conservatism's seeds were planted in the 1960's with Reagan's governance of California and William F. Buckley. The seeds took root with Nixon, and then movement conservatism blossomed when Reagan entered the White House. While Bill Clinton wilted the conservative tree somewhat, Krugman hold's that George W. Bush perfectly embodies movement conservatism's ideologies and that movement conservatism blossomed fully with Bush's re-election in 2004 when Bush attacked the New Deal at its fundamental base, Social Security.
Krugman not only explains the evolution of movement conservatism, but the 2008 Nobel Laureate in Economics engages in economic heresy by stating that economic trends do not establish the political order. To the contrary, Krugman states that the economic environment lags political developments. He lists four pieces of evidence to support his argument. First, the pre World War II economic inequality did not reemerge following the removal of wartime controls. Instead, New Deal prosperity reigned for thirty years in America. Second, the staying power of New Deal prosperity did not retreat until after movement conservatism had captured the political helm for over a decade. Third, economists have begun to understand that technological innovation was not the cause of the new economic inequality because even the most highly educated Americans have not realized appreciable financial gains unless they reside in the top one percent of the American population. Fourth, the rightward shift in politics and the resulting economic inequality is unprecedented among advanced countries. Krugman explains that the Democratic party in America has remained steady since the time of Roosevelt. Instead, Republicans have shifted right significantly. Krugman supports this contention by analyzing how Clinton's policies were often to the right of Nixon, while Bush's policies far surpassed the conservatism of Gerald Ford.
Krugman closes the chapter with the idea that Americans have had enough of movement conservatism and its concomitant disparity in income. Krugman believes that America began the transition in 2006, when Democrats regained control of the House and Senate. However, he cautioned that one election does not make a trend. After the election of Barack Obama as president and the further strengthening of the Democratic position in the House and the Senate in 2008, Krugman appears politically perspicacious.
Chapter 1 left me with two questions, one rather conspiracy theorist and one legitimate. First,is it possible that George Bush, at the behest of movement conservatism, went to war in Iraq to preserve his post September 11th popularity and retain control of the White House for four more years? Next, how can middle class Americans who claim that they support the middle class embrace a party that wants to destroy the very policies that created the middle class?