Progressivism that works

I haven’t been in a posting mood lately; sorry about that.  Worse yet, the most interesting book I’ve read lately, James Galbraith’s The Predator State, had to go back to the library.  Man, and I thought I disliked the Republicans.  There’s a lot in it I’d like to talk about, but I’d really like to re-read the book and review the arguments first.

His basic thesis is that the pet economic policies of the right— monetarism, lowering taxes as an incitement to raise savings, small government, deregulation, free trade— were long ago abandoned by Republicans in power and by economists; the only people who still believe in them, defensively, are liberals.

He’s most interesting when he gets down to specifics— e.g. he says that obscene CEO pay was largely the norm in two industries, Wall Street and the tech sector, and that its unintended effect was to create a new aristocratic class: the CEO has no loyalty even to the firm that pays him, but only to his fellow CEOs.

Perhaps the best take-away idea, however, is that deregulation is not (as progressives might suspect) a sop to the business class.  It’s a sop to the worst of the business class.  Regulation is an alliance between progressives and the top companies. Take gas mileage: can reformers decree that cars get 100 mpg?  Certainly not; we have to set goals that can actually be met.  Regulation thus benefits the companies that can meet the goals and still make a profit; and the companies that resist are those that can’t.  These are the ‘predators’ of the title; it’s their interest that the Republicans serve.

Galbraith’s critique goes well beyond this; he chastises liberals for swallowing the worship of the free market, merely hoping to tweak it toward justice.  He thinks that the market fails badly in many ways, and frankly argues for government intervention, social controls on wages, and deficit spending.  His presentation can be a bit breezy, so I’m not sure I follow all his arguments nor agree with them all, but I think he’s quite right that “the market” has become an ideology designed to restrict policy options, which needs to be challenged.