I Don’t Look Anything Like Aaron Altman

Broadcast News posterDean Baker has a great piece on truthout, urging progressives to rethink the government’s role in the economy. It’s obviously timely – could such contemplation ever be more salient than now? – but important for long-range progressive goals as well. Baker was one of the few economists to have seen the current crisis coming (a lot of alliteration for a bleary blogger penning powerful posts*…), and he’s ahead of the curve here as well. Instead of contenting ourselves with stimulus packages that have been perverted and weakened by the same lame brains who led us down the garden path, we need to get busy on the future. For far too long, progressives, or liberals depending on your fancy, have worked within a framework wrought by conservatives, achieving piecemeal goals with the occasional big program. Baker sees ways to change the framework. bringing more goals within our collective (oooh, yeah, I said collective!) reach.

There are many other ways in which we can change the rules so that less money flows to those on top, leaving more for the rest of us. Changing the rules does not require big government in the sense of large portions of GDP being collected in tax revenue.

It does require that government take an active role in the economy, but it is already taking an active role in the economy in these areas. The difference is that, currently, the conservatives have been setting these rules, while progressives have been polite enough not to pay attention. Instead, they have mostly focused their energy on matters that will have far less impact.

The economic crisis brought on by the collapse of the housing bubble offers progressives unprecedented opportunities. But we have to be prepared to actually think big, and not just think about big programs.”

What better time to really open our minds to the kinds of fundamental changes we can make to our system to make it more equitable for everyone? People are no longer going to be satisfied to forgo decent, affordable health care as long as they can watch the big game on an ever-bigger screen. (Because the big screens are getting repo-ed, but still…) They’re going to stop tolerating the second mortgages needed to pay for their children’s college educations while corporations pay king’s ransoms to the executives who’ve slashed their work forces. (Mainly because they’ve no more houses to mortgage, but still…) And, finally, we’ll all refuse to accept that slashing care for the poor and the weakest of mind and body is the necessary cost of creating an attractive business climate for corporations that don’t intend to hire those who need jobs the most. (Because soon that will be all of us…) Won’t we? If this crisis is about more than the economy, if this crisis is about what it means to be American and to be America, then the time is now. Change must be more than a bumper sticker and “Yes We Can” has to refer to more than Nov. 4, 2008.

*Remember “Broadcast News”? That’s a take-off on one of Albert Brooks’ best lines. And, while I’m on it, isn’t Holly Hunter’s character the mother, if you will, of Liz Lemon? Talk amongst yourselves.


  1. John Owens-Ream

    February 10, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Great post, as usual… one little nit picking note though:

    You wrote:

    “Baker was one of the few economists to have seen the current crisis coming”

    and I’ve got to disagree with that. He was one of the few some-what prominent economists to see it coming (although obviously not prominent enough). But at least half the economics proffesors in the country, if not at least a third of the economics grad students, heck I would wager at least 1 in 5 economics undergrads, saw the current crisis coming a long way off. I mean, well informed non-economists were warning about exactly our current predicament as early as 2005.

    There are hundreds, if not thousands, of economists, journalists, public servants, and bloggers who could see the writing on the wall of the housing bubble just as it began to expand unreasonably in 2002 and 2001.

    The idea that the only a few people saw this thing comming is one that we need to, as progressives, be pushing back against.

    The current crisis is one that almost no one in the Beltway media saw coming, no one on CNBC saw coming, and one that few elected officials saw coming (a handful of notable exceptions in the senate, and a couple more dozen exceptions in the house).

    But that doesn’t mean a hell of a lot of people outside of DC and New York weren’t warning us years and years ago.

    We’re in a giant and complex crisis for sure. But the causes of the crisis are simple. They’re related primarily to five things:

    1) An intentionally artificially inflated housing market,

    2) Major banking–insurance–securities deregulation in the late 90s and early ’00s,

    3) Massive overspending w/out corresponding tax increases, (largely caused by some giant tax giveaways to the rich and to large corporations + an incredible increase in “defense” spending, i.e. the wars)

    4) A giant trade deficit (made much larger by many 90’s era trade deals, especially the China deal in ’99) and

    5) Eight years of criminally lax federal oversight of our financial, housing, and insurance arenas.

    There have been plenty of progressive voices that for the last decade have been fighting in these 5 areas. Those progressives have, time and again, warned of the consequences of bad choices (the china deal, the 2001 tax cuts, the war…) and have been time and again, unfortunately for our great country, those voices- ridiculed at the time- have been vindicated.

    There have been even more progressives voices speaking out about the consequences of not taking corrective action in a number of areas (trade deficit, declining middle class wages, housing bubble, FEC oversight…) and those voices have been perennially cast as gadflies and chicken-littles, despite being, again unfortunately, vindicated.

    Finally, for the last 3-5 years there have been a plethora of progressive voices warning that the current confluence of events, especially the big five listed above, were going to spell impending doom and a market failure + depression like none we’ve seen since the 30s….

    It brings me no pleasure that the progressives were right about all this, and the mainstream culture that ridiculed us was desperately wrong.

    But now that we’re in this mess it’s important to vocally remind people that there were plenty of progressives who saw all this coming from a mile away. It’s important not because we need vindication or because we want to play political games, but because we need to make sure our future course is plotted by the people with track records worth trusting.

  2. Juanita

    February 22, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    Dean Baker has helped me understand the economy through a lot of his work most recently through an essay -From Financial Crisis to Opportunity- as part of the book [URL=”http://thinkingbigthebook.com/”]Thinking Big[/URL], put out by the Progressive Ideas Network (a coalition of many influential progressive groups). It’s a great read, I encourage y’all to get on the same page so we can haul ourselves out of this mess!

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