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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Paul Krugman, "High Plains Moochers": Is There Still Room in the Middle in America?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "High Plains Moochers" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/28/opinion/krugman-high-plains-moochers.html?_r=0), Paul Krugman addresses the controversy which has arisen with respect to Cliven Bundy over the use of state-owned lands without payment. Krugman writes:

"American conservatism used to have room for fairly sophisticated views about the role of government. Its economic patron saint used to be Milton Friedman, who advocated aggressive money-printing, if necessary, to avoid depressions. It used to include environmentalists who took pollution seriously but advocated market-based solutions like cap-and-trade or emissions taxes rather than rigid rules.

But today’s conservative leaders were raised on Ayn Rand’s novels and Ronald Reagan’s speeches (as opposed to his actual governance, which was a lot more flexible than the legend). They insist that the rights of private property are absolute, and that government is always the problem, never the solution.

The trouble is that such beliefs are fundamentally indefensible in the modern world, which is rife with what economists call externalities — costs that private actions impose on others, but which people have no financial incentive to avoid. You might want, for example, to declare that what a farmer does on his own land is entirely his own business; but what if he uses pesticides that contaminate the water supply, or antibiotics that speed the evolution of drug-resistant microbes? You might want to declare that government intervention never helps; but who else can deal with such problems?"

I agree with Krugman.

Moreover, as observed in yesterday's blog entry (http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/04/maureen-dowd-slaves-to-prejudice-why-be.html), I am horrified by Bundy's racist utterances, which should have been denounced by Fox News and Hannity without delay.

But what I find most interesting with respect to this controversy is American polarization. In addition to a response from a reader who obsesses over my hair (Clothes? Watches? Haircuts? You think I give a damn?), I had a comment from a reader who gloated over the election of Obama notwithstanding his 20-year association with Jeremiah Wright. "Hahaha," he/she wrote twice. In fact, given the absence of Obama adminstration achievements over the past five and a half years, the joke is on America.

A second reader questioned whether by the same reasoning, i.e. my abhorrence of Obama's past association with Wright, I would also object to a Rand Paul presidential candidacy. Well, I also detest Rand.

The assumption, of course, is that if I perceive Obama as a failure or was dismayed by his association with Wright, I surely must be a Tea Party supporter or something further to the right. However, I am pro-choice, favor gay marriage, opposed the Second Gulf War and US ground involvement in Afghanistan, and believe in a ban on the sale of assault rifles. Do I still qualify as a conservative? Perhaps my economics, which are not in keeping with those of Krugman, are conservative. Unlike Krugman, I was revolted by Occupy Wall Street, although I have consistently protested the excesses of hedge funds and banks.

But more to the point, must you either be a progressive or a conservative today? Is there no longer any room in the middle?

Can the Republicans still field someone other than a Tea Party supporter in 2016? We'll have to wait and see, but if it were to come down to a choice between Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul, I would surely back Hillary, albeit with a laundry clip over my nose.

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