My Very Good Friend Paul Krugman® is on the cover of next week's Newsweek. Over at the Washington Monthly, Dday writes about the important role he plays in moving the national economic dialogue to the left:
Now, you don't have to agree with everything Krugman says - I've seen some very good critiques of things he's said recently. But he is a serious thinker and this is his area of expertise, and he performs an important function. It's an odd quirk of fate that Krugman has as big a megaphone as he does, and so using it to put pressure on the Obama Administration from the left does several things: 1) provides a counter-weight to the conservative critiques of the President, which are usually so nutty that they pale in comparison to reasoned dissent, 2) forces Obama to at least debate the merits of his proposals rather than dismiss all critics, and most important, 3) gives Obama space on the left to put out an more progressive agenda than otherwise. Bill Clinton sums up the dynamic:
I recently heard an interesting anecdote about the 1993 budget fight. While it is probably the most progressive piece of sizable legislation to pass into law in two decades, it was a grueling fight--passing both branches of Congress by a single vote--and it still could have been better. At the signing ceremony, President Clinton found then Representative Bernie Sanders, and told Sanders that he, Sanders, should have made a much bigger public display of how he, Clinton, wasn't giving enough to liberals in the new budget. Such a public display would have provided Clinton more room to maneuver on the left.
The moral of the story is that if no one is criticizing a Democratic administration from the left, then there is no rationale or political space for that Democratic administration to operate on the left. Such criticism is thus even useful to, and desired by, a Democratic administration. If the left stays quiet, it will not be relevant.
Krugman is fulfilling that role, opening what many have called the Overton window, moving the conversation away from the failed conservative ideas of the past.
We just think everyone would have been better off if the press had paid this much attention to Krugman's work between, say, 2002 and 2006.
I also appreciate Krugman's modesty in reacting to the cover story:
I've long been a believer in the magazine cover indicator: when you see a corporate chieftain on the cover of a glossy magazine, short the stock [...] Presumably the same effect applies to, say, economists.
You have been warned.