Sunday, December 9, 2012

Economism: Where Are We after the Election?

            Barack Obama’s re-election, by a strong showing in the electoral college and a decent margin in the popular vote, has warded off two great dangers. First, we are now spared the sorts of Supreme Court justices that an economism advocate such as Romney would no doubt have appointed, that would have further tilted the court in the coming decades in a pro-corporate direction (and no doubt led to more decisions such as Citizens United). Second, we can predict with reasonable confidence that this President will probably preside over an economic recovery. This of course would have happened no matter who was elected. But had Romney been elected, given the voters’ apparent love affair with imagining that the President has some control over the nation’s economy, the popular political narrative would have been that Romney was chosen by the voters, and so therefore his favored policies caused the recovery. That narrative would have polluted any serious thinking about economic and monetary policy, again for a couple of decades at least.
            Besides dodging these bullets, what the various pundits are saying about the election is somewhat reassuring for people who believe that we’ll make policy progress in the U.S. only once we can get the albatross of the economism ideology off our necks. Perhaps the most striking comment was one I overheard on an NPR segment, that to the extent the people who actually show up at the polls on Election Day look like the country, the Democrats do well and the Republicans do badly. If true, this suggests that the Republicans, if they win elections, are not winning on message; they are winning by keeping a representative sample of voters away from the polls. That’s further suggestive that the Republican message, which coming out of the mouths of Romney and Ryan was all-out economism, is simply not a winner with the American public at this time.
            So all that may be encouraging, but the fact remains that nearly half of those who voted were willing to vote for Romney, and presumably at some level bought into his economism shtick that because he was a successful businessman, he could be trusted to be the kind of president that would know what needed to be done to right the economy and create jobs. So a great deal of work needs to be done.
            As I noted in The Golden Calf, Obama has generally been wary of any direct attacks on economism—apparently wishing to maintain his bona fides as one willing to reach across the aisle and promote bipartisan compromise. Obama made a couple of major speeches in which he seemed to start in a direction of exposing economism’s untruths and illogic, but then he tacked back toward the center. Attacking Romney as a rich man out of touch with the majority of Americans is a sort of swipe against economism, which portrays the rich as God’s chosen people and hence worthy of our accolades. But in choosing Obama over Romney, the American voters were not presented with a clear choice of economism yes or no.
            If we are to create a firm basis for sensible national policy, and clear the ground for such reasonable thinking by sweeping economism aside, then much more work remains.

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