DELIBERATION: Jim Turner Dissects Paul Krugman

07 Other Atrocities, 11 Society, Civil Society, Cultural Intelligence

Jim Turner, #2 to Ralph Nader in the day, is co-author of VOICE OF THE PEOPLE–The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life.  This is his contribution to the current dialog.

My view is that Krugman's article —

America is divided by two very different views of government
Saturday, January 15, 2011

— as usual for him, is a clear and articulate presentation of the Order Left position.  Like his counterparts on the Order Right, it is long on proscription and short on empathy—lots of shoulds, theys, and inevitables, some but few mights, wes, and possibilities.  In this particular instance Order Left Krugman attacks his equally narrow Order Right adversaries over taxes and health as examples of a general indictment of political failure and takes no notice of the free right or the free left.

I admire Krugman as an exponent of his confined view and, when I accept his premises, often agree with him.  Nonetheless, he leaves out or minimizes, in this and other columns the fact that one of the biggest divides we face as a nation is the divide between a relatively united country and a significantly unrepresentative politics.

When I originally read this Column I picked out three points I thought were key to Krugman’s inability to successfully address the situation facing all Americans which he seems to want to do.

1.  First he says:

“A Tale of Two Moralities…One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.”

“The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.”

We are moral and they are immoral are about as “red-toothed and claw” a pair of statements as can be said about yourself and your antagonists.  Krugman, my guy in this fight, boldly mounts his attack on an enemy he profoundly dislikes.  The problem?  This fight is tangential, if relevant at all, to the struggles faced by Americans today.

Aside from being factually inaccurate Krugman misses something else going on beside the Krugman divide.  In fact, the nation, based on decades of polling and analysis, is not divided into two political sides.  Specifically Krugman misses the point that more than 2/3ds of constitutionally eligible US voters shy away from identification as Democrats or Repiblicans a strong suggestion that more than “two sides” to the “morality” debate exist.

Many more individuals than Krugman’s adversaries are disaffected from Krugman’s view.  Until he and his order allies/foes notice this fact, they will find it difficult to develop helpful guidance toward a politics more effective at addressing fundamental opportunities than currently practiced.  Krugman et al’s arguments feed the discord.

2. He goes on missing this public/politics divide, saying:

“There’s no middle ground between these views.”  Since there are more than two views present in the situation something more than a spectrum with a middle is necessary to adequately capture the diverse political impulses vying for contemporary recognition. That is why in our book Voice of the People: the Transpartisan Imperative in American Life Lawry Chickering and I rely on the Transpartisan MATRIX to help clarify America’s current political landscape.  Thus we urge recognition of both free and order on both the right and the left.



The two policy issues Krugman uses to support his argument—health and taxes—make the point.  In Krugman’s imagined world the only two choices on health are:

“One side saw health reform, with its subsidized extension of coverage to the uninsured, as fulfilling a moral imperative: wealthy nations, it believed, have an obligation to provide all their citizens with essential care. The other side saw the same reform as a moral outrage, an assault on the right of Americans to spend their money as they choose.”

What Krugman misses in his health construct is the role of the third to a half of Americans who use, whatever else they do, one or another form of health and wellness approach that lies outside of the drug, surgery and radiation orthodoxy of American/Western “scientific” medicine.  Users of chiropractic, acupuncture, naturopathy, massage, and more than fifty other organized modalities fall into this group.

These individuals occupy political positions across the spectrum and all over the Matrix and often—though not exclusively—show up voting as “independent.”   Northing galls this community more than being forced to buy insurance which excludes their health expenses.  This is made doubly galling when these people turn up among the healthier members of society.

To Krugman these people are merely affluent individuals who do not care about their neighbors.  This kind of thinking leaves little room for successful politics — politics that actually addresses real problems.  Integrate the voice of the comprehensive health community, a community that wishes to use it own money to make its own health choices, into the health debate and that debate will shift.  It might even significantly reduce overall health costs. Krugman’s view — the order right/left construct — precludes this discussion and its possible positive contributions.

Today Order Left and Order Right debate taxes and regulation (Krugman’s favorite tools) over how to get the most “health care” money, now nearly 20% of the economy, to their respective clients.  Public health and the government supported research establishment on the left.  Insurance and health care “markets” — i.e. large corporations — on the right.  Free left and right — excluded by Krugman and his order right opponents — oppose the exclusivity of the corporate/government order right/left tax and regulate axis.  As proponents of the expanded health and wellness model gain their voice in the health discourse the dominance of the “order” analysis made by Krugman and his allies and foes could diminish.

Krugman overlooks the millions of people disaffected from the political process who are outraged because their approach to health care is being systematically dishonored by the corporate government order alliance.  The same is true on taxes.  A disaffected public says we want good government services — more  of what government does well and less of what it does badly — and we want them at prices that are not exorbitant.

Krugman and his targets on the right see this as irresponsible — the public wanting what it refuses to pay for.  One side says raise taxes and the other says cut service.  The disaffected public says pox on both houses — find the money to provide the services somewhere else.  Again, there are other ways to get money to satisfy the public demand.  They are, however, dishonored –by both the order left and order right –by excluding them from the debate.

For example, University of Wisconsin emeritus professor of economics, Edgar Feige, has for over a decade urged a 0.6% user fee on all bank transactions as a way to replace the current tax system(s). http://www.apttax < By his calculations this fee raises more money for government than all state, local and federal taxes combined, saves a billion dollars annually in tax collection dollars, costs a median income ($50,000) American under $900 annually (compared to $15,000 today)  and is collected without any forms like a highway toll collected by an easy pass.

It would be great to see an exchange of views on this proposal by Krugman and Feige, but this idea does not exist in Krugman’s political world.  The order left, right debate assumes a confined society with limited choices and finite resources that requires sacrifice—particularly sacrifice from those outside its partisan politics.

This form of the discourse contributes to the anger, hostility and alienation felt by so many Americans. Krugman’s order left attacks on the order right—which I enjoy as much as I enjoy a good Superbowl and where I root for Krugman—are, if not completely beside the point that concerns Americans, leave out important matters relevant to our emerging politics which are increasingly transpartisan in the country at large while increasingly partisan in the centers of power.

3. Finally Krugman sums up by firmly avoiding anyone or any idea outside the order quadrants saying:

“This deep divide in American political morality — for that’s what it amounts to — is a relatively recent development.  Commentators who pine for the days of civility and bipartisanship are, whether they realize it or not, pining for the days when the Republican Party accepted the legitimacy of the welfare state, and was even willing to contemplate expanding it.  As many analysts have noted, the Obama health reform — whose passage was met with vandalism and death threats against members of Congress — was modeled on Republican plans from the 1990s.”

Commentators, like Krugman, who pine for the good old days of order right/ order left consensus are, whether they realize it or not, pining for the days when Order Left Democrats and Order Right Republicans agreed to split between themselves the spoils of the chronically underrepresented, fiscally biased and placid corporate republic.

They seem to find the cultural rise of free left and free right activity though the internet, through exercising greater health and life options, through resistance to irresponsible taxes, expanding mobility, and opting out of partisan political bickering, threatening. When combined with the anger against repression, they find it frightening.  This cultural combination in the US is similar to the combination of “new social media and old-fashioned rage,” as Roger Cohn put in the New York Times, that is bringing down the government in Tunisia.  Krugman and his order allies/foes act frightened, and defensively circle their wagons, in part because, in the end, culture eats politics.

If only, they seem to say, the good (order) Republicans could get back together with the good (order) Democrats and the free left/right would stop voting independent, teeter-tottering the power seats, we could expand restrictions on health choice, pay for subsequent cost increases with more taxation and/or by requiring individuals to buy health insurance, balance budgets by increasing taxes and/or cutting services, and pay for police to maintain order against unruly protesters.  Anger from the targets of these policies surprises them.  Unfortunately for the order analysis we are all in this together.  Neither can free left or fight or order left or right push any of the others out of the boat without capsizing it.

The order only dominant program leaves little room for successful politics.  In his comments on Krugman’s article Lawry Chickering suggests an approach that might have some success when he says, “Transpartisans are more likely to succeed if they focus on agreements including formulations of issues where people are in conflict in ways that bring them together.”  I like to think of it as integrating our politics the way we integrate our left and right legs when walking.  Such integration creates orderly momentum that gives us greater freedom then hopping on one foot or the other — or hopping on both feet in a bipartisan manner.

In this world view it is not outlandish to imagine a significant number of people — a majority? — believing both that it is good for “the affluent to help the less fortunate” while seeing “taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.”  After all, the American founders mutually pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to end taxation without representation and, ultimately, to create a more perfect union that included establishing Justice, and promoting the general Welfare.

Nor is it a reach to imagine significant numbers of Americans believing that “wealthy nations have an obligation to provide all their citizens with essential health care” and also that they have “the right to spend their money as they choose.”  In fact, large numbers of Americans (most?) support access to broader health choice created by policies that encourage and support individuals to spend their own money on health options they choose.

Such an integration of values, they argue, would allow everyone a better chance at optimum health, happiness and wellbeing at more affordable personal and social cost.  For example, more emphasis on tax deferring Health Savings Accounts and less on health insurance buying mandates might lessen the contention and improve the outcome of the health “reform” discourse.  That option has barely entered the order dominated world of political spoils.

Individuals as diverse as Grover Norquist and Ralph Nader join to attack “corporate welfare.”  Pat Buchanan and Daniel Ellsberg consistently criticize the Iraq and Afgan wars.  The National Riffle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union both file winning briefs when the Supreme Court decides against some McCain, Feingold campaign reforms in the Citizens United case.  At a minimum, recognizing the tension of freedom and order on both the left and the right helps explain certain “strange bedfellow” alliances and outcomes.

Krugman’s moral divide leaves little room for this kind of integration.  Where people of diverse political persuasions join together to craft unique approaches to community tasks, partisan orthodoxy fades.  There is more going on in American politics than captured by Krugman’s brittle moral divide.

Phi Beta Iota: This detailed critique highlights so much of what is wrong with the two-party system/tyranny.  Life–and America–are much more complicated, and we have much more promise–that the present dysfunctional legalized crime system that benefits the few at the expense of the many.

See Also:

Journal: Demopublicans–NO DIFFERENCE

Journal: Tom Atlee Comments on Great Transition

Reference: Changing the Game

Reference: Electoral Reform Act & Third Party Politics

Reference: Best Piece on Democracy in a Decade

My Talk With Tom Atlee: Primer on Citizen Intelligence

Review: Shooting the Truth–The Rise of American Political Documentaries

Worth a Look: The Transpartisan Upwising

What’s Right with America? Let Me List the Books…

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