Bill Keller, on shouting down the economists with the life-saving answers

November 30, 2011

Economists know how to fix the U.S. economy.  But according to Bill Keller at the New York Times, they’re being shouted down.

So for the past several weeks my airplane and bedside reading has consisted of sexy documents like “A Roadmap for America’s Future” and “The Way Forward” and “The Moment of Truth” and “Restoring America’s Future” and “Living Within Our Means and Investing in the Future.” I’ve also reached out to a few economists respected for the integrity of their science and their patience with economic illiterates.

The first thing I gleaned from this little tutorial will probably not surprise you: There really is a textbook way to fix our current mess. Short-term stimulus works to help an economy recover from a recession. Some kinds of stimulus pay off more quickly than others. Once the economic heart is pumping again, we need to get our deficits under control. The way to do that is a balance of spending cuts, increased tax revenues and entitlement reforms. There is room to argue about the proportions and the timing, and small differences can produce large consequences, but the basic formula is not only common sense, it is mainstream economic science, tested many times in the real world.

So what’s the problem? Why is our system so fundamentally stuck? Partly it’s a colossal, bipartisan lack of the political courage required to tell people what they sort of know but don’t want to hear. Partly it’s a Republican Party that, for its own cynical reasons, wants no deal with this president. Partly it’s moneyed, focused lobbies that swarm in defense of specific advantages written into the law; there is no comparable lobby for compromise, let alone sacrifice.

Is reasoned discourse such that much a lost art in America today?  Keller extends his point to cover several areas of discussion — President Obama’s birthplace, global warming and what to do about it, vaccines, etc.  He could as easily have added whether Rachel Carson murdered more people than Mao Zedong, cures for our education woes, and the designated hitter rule.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man has value; but in the land of the knee-walking turkeys the one-eyed man is just one more roost to crap on.

What is a rational person to do?


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