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Frustrated Progressive Economist makes a suggestion

October 23, 2009


About a year ago, a number of us met in New York City to see if we could agree upon a series of recommendations to the incoming Obama Administration. It ultimately saw the light of day as A Progressive Program for Economic Recovery and Financial Reconstruction. I am sending this e-mail to the list that was informally created around the time that document was put together as well as to individuals who I personally know AS WELL AS ANY READERS OF THIS BLOG out of a sense of extreme frustration with not only the timid (and in the case of banking, entirely wrong-headed) steps that the Obama Administration has taken but with the outrageous cacophony of right-wing garbage that seems to have seized the public square (with notable exceptions to be sure).

I also am sending this because I just showed two classes of working class college students (at John Jay College of CUNY) Rick Wolff’s DVD “Capitalism Hits the Fan.” One doesn’t have to agree with everything in Rick’s analysis and presentation to admire the fact that he is proposing a clear, sharp critique of the US economy today (and in recent years) as well as a quite radical “first step” toward real change. I also couldn’t help but be impressed with the near unanimous agreement among my students that the working class had, in fact, been seriously screwed by American style capitalism for the past 30 odd years. In other words, the assertion at the beginning of the document produced last fall that it would be impossible (and a bad idea) to attempt to “hit the reset button” for the economy DOES RESONATE with students such as those to whom I just showed the film.

It is now 6:00 AM the next morning (that would be THURSDAY, October 22) and I cannot sleep. I keep thinking — WHERE ARE ALL OF US who believe we understand what is going on and (a little of) what is needed a helluva lot better than the Geithner-Summers-Furman-Goolsby axis that is advising Obama about economic policy and indeed implementing a program that is clearly designed to do what we warned against trying to do: hit the “reset” button? Where are we?

I know that EPI continues to do good work. IWPR continues to do good work. I read Tom Palley’s blog. (I make my miserably small contribution once a month on NPR). Teresa just was quoted in USA Today. Dean writes his blog. Jamie continues doing good work. Once in a while Krugman writes a good column. Rick Wolff’s film is being shown in lots of places. PERI continues to do good work. (Bob Pollin is all over the place with his green jobs analysis) It’s not as if we aren’t trying — But somehow, what we get on the mainstream media is a “dialogue” between the woefully inadequate (and often totally wrong) series of policy recommendations from the Obama Administration (think “cap and trade”, the miserably insignificant “public option” which may even be defeated!, the too little stimulus package hostage to the “paygo” mentality, and woeful neglect of the real increases in misery in the third world as the “first world” struggles to recreate a vibrant, growing, international economy not based on the doubly unsustainable US trade deficit and Chinese trade surplus) on the one hand, and right-wing KNOW-NOTHINGism from the Republican Party/Tea Baggers/Death Panel idiots/Global Warming deniers/Right-Wing Talk Show cacophony.

In the NEW DEAL, the Republicans were quickly marginalized and the decade became a fruitful dialogue within which the left – yes, the Communist and Socialist parties, for God’s sake!!—argued with the liberals. Social Security was a compromise with the radical Townshend Plan. Unions were “accepted” (as in passing the Wagner Act) because more radical change was in danger of “going mainstream”. Sure, American Social Democracy was bound up with racism [think how the AAA ended up dispossessing lots of black sharecroppers and tenants] and was a pale shadow of the European versions that emerged during the depression and after (note we never got universal health care) but comparing what life was like for the American working class between 1945 and 1975 and what it’s been like since I think most of us would long for the “partial loaves” of that earlier period (including the profound progress that was made in rights for peoples of color and women during those decades of [relative] prosperity).

I apologize for going on and on — and I apologize if many reading this are starting to wonder why I am stating the obvious.

I have an idea.

I THINK IT’S TIME (and I know I’m not in a position to do even a tiny bit of the heavy lifting that it would involve) FOR THE CREATION OF A “TRULY LOYAL OPPOSITION” on the economic diagnosis and policy fronts to the Obama Administration’s attempts to do what many of us warned it not to do, hit the reset button.

That the Republican Party/Tea Baggers/Death Panel warners/Birthers/Right-Wing Talk Radio hosts are considered by the media the main opposition to the Obama Administration is an indication of the profound bankruptcy of part of the “establishment.” The institutions and corporations and individual rich men (some women?) who are funding and staffing the astro-turf organizations that have tapped into real fears of real people to move the US towards fascism (remember Huey Long, Father Coughlin, etc. from the great depression) should not be the only people in “dialogue” with the Obama Administration forcing them, for example, to attempt to “compromise” as in the disgusting bill reported out by the Senate Finance Committee on “health care reform” (which it is anything but!).

INSTEAD — someone (or group of people) reading this should be in a position to organize a conference of ORGANIZATIONS and INDIVIDUALS – Unions, organizations like URPE, publishers of newsletters and journals, think tanks like IWPR, EPI, CEPR, PERI, individuals who have access to the public square — cast the net as widely as possible.

Someone (or a group of people) should figure out how to get a million dollars (or a few million dollars – I have no idea how much money would be needed to begin with) out of some rich person or persons [or foundations] to staff an organization DEDICATED over the next calendar year (January 2010 till the end of the year) to SHIFTING THE DIALOGUE on economic policy from the RIDICULOUS ONE that we observe on the tube and the internet every day [between the Obama Administration and the right-wing naysayers] to one that insists that the time for BOLD ACTION IS NOW.

BOLD ACTION on regulating banks, on creating a true safety net [pensions and health care], on transforming the way we tap into energy sources to truly “go green”, on raising wages of working people, on re-negotiating international economic relations, on STOPPING foreclosures (rather than re-subsidizing the housing and mortgage industries!).

Our goal should be that every media outlet in the country will know – as every Obama Administration proposal comes down the pike – as every law moves through Congress – as every ridiculous right-wing attack rears its ugly head – as every hearing on what has happened and what should happen occurs in Congress (or in civic organizations all over the country) THAT THERE IS A “LOYAL OPPOSITION” (as opposed to the disloyal one – let’s call them virtually treasonous if we want to be as extreme in our language as they are in theirs) who wants to see AMERICA SUCCEED by really transforming our society for the better – something Obama was elected to do but hasn’t seemed to have the right advisers to get him there – or perhaps (as the NY Times recently reported about the inability of Paul Volcker to successfully push his ideas) the good advice he’s getting is not being listened to. THIS LOYAL OPPOSITION should insist on full access to the public square.

IN ADDITION: This group should prepare a series of video presentations by “our” superstars (including Joe Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, Bob Solow, as well as the usual suspects from within our ranks) on the economic policy issues that confront the nation and attempt to get them shown in the early FALL to EVERY ECONOMICS CLASS IN THE NATION. These videos should come complete with written materials, links to data, and be created in the next few months so that we can blitz ALL economics, political science and other faculty who might consider introducing their students to the views of this LOYAL OPPOSITION next Fall. Of course the point of all of this from January to, say, November of 2010 is to attempt to influence the DIALOGUE that will be all over the internet and other media in the run-up to the Congressional elections.

We don’t have to like Bill Clinton and what he and the democratic majority did between 1992 and 2000 (they gave us the “Gingrich Revolution” and George W. Bush!! – not to mention NAFTA, welfare reform, the worship of budget balance in the form of the “paygo strait jacket”!) to recognize the profound damage that was done by their failures and follies [I’m talking NAFTA, etc and Magaziner/Clinton Health Care reform not Monica!]. Part of the reason for those failures and follies was the absence of a true left-wing opposition.

Are we going to tend our own gardens, do our little bits here and there, and let the same thing happen again?

I don’t know how many people who I am sending this to are still reading.

I don’t know if any of the people still reading are in a position to do ANYTHING about these ideas.

I don’t know how many of the people still reading even agree with what I’ve written.

HOWEVER – if enough people do, then they (and we) need to get started.

OR – if such an activity has already started and I don’t know about it, please tell us all (hit “reply all”) and maybe we can just join up. I certainly don’t want to be in a position of recommending an attempt to re-invent the wheel if an activity (or series of activities) such as the one(s) I’m proposing are already under way.


A LOYAL OPPOSITION specifically dedicated to ECONOMIC POLICY needs to arise and claim a share of the public square.

OBJECTIVE: produce materials specifically aimed at policy proposals from the administration and designed to respond to the idiocies of the right-wing opposition without falling into the trap of accepted Administration “half-loaves” or “no loaves” just because the right-wing is so disgusting and dangerous.


Make all materials available in TEACHABLE FORM to attempt to grab the attention of college students and faculty – and civic organizations as well (senior citizens would be an extremely important constituency to tap into as they vote in large numbers and have seemed somewhat susceptible to the fear-mongering about Medicare from the right wing) in the FALL of 2010.

Staff an office to act as a clearinghouse.


Sorry for all the capital letters.

Mike Meeropol
[6:30 AM, October 22]

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October 23, 2009

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