The Big Fail

By PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times, January 6, 2013

San Diego

It’s that time again: the annual meeting of the American Economic Association and affiliates, a sort of medieval fair that serves as a marketplace for bodies (newly minted Ph.D.’s in search of jobs), books and ideas. And this year, as in past meetings, there is one theme dominating discussion: the ongoing economic crisis.

This isn’t how things were supposed to be. If you had polled the economists attending this meeting three years ago, most of them would surely have predicted that by now we’d be talking about how the great slump ended, not why it still continues.

So what went wrong? The answer, mainly, is the triumph of bad ideas.

It’s tempting to argue that the economic failures of recent years prove that economists don’t have the answers. But the truth is actually worse: in reality, standard economics offered good answers, but political leaders — and all too many economists — chose to forget or ignore what they should have known.

The story, at this point, is fairly straightforward. The financial crisis led, through several channels, to a sharp fall in private spending: residential investment plunged as the housing bubble burst; consumers began saving more as the illusory wealth created by the bubble vanished, while the mortgage debt remained. And this fall in private spending led, inevitably, to a global recession.

For an economy is not like a household. A family can decide to spend less and try to earn more. But in the economy as a whole, spending and earning go together: my spending is your income; your spending is my income. If everyone tries to slash spending at the same time, incomes will fall — and unemployment will soar.

So what can be done? A smaller financial shock, like the dot-com bust at the end of the 1990s, can be met by cutting interest rates. But the crisis of 2008 was far bigger, and even cutting rates all the way to zero wasn’t nearly enough.

At that point governments needed to step in, spending to support their economies while the private sector regained its balance. And to some extent that did happen: revenue dropped sharply in the slump, but spending actually rose as programs like unemployment insurance expanded and temporary economic stimulus went into effect. Budget deficits rose, but this was actually a good thing, probably the most important reason we didn’t have a full replay of the Great Depression.

But it all went wrong in 2010. The crisis in Greece was taken, wrongly, as a sign that all governments had better slash spending and deficits right away. Austerity became the order of the day, and supposed experts who should have known better cheered the process on, while the warnings of some (but not enough) economists that austerity would derail recovery were ignored. For example, the president of the European Central Bank confidently asserted that “the idea that austerity measures could trigger stagnation is incorrect.”

Well, someone was incorrect, all right.

Of the papers presented at this meeting, probably the biggest flash came from one by Olivier Blanchard and Daniel Leigh of the International Monetary Fund. Formally, the paper represents the views only of the authors; but Mr. Blanchard, the I.M.F.’s chief economist, isn’t an ordinary researcher, and the paper has been widely taken as a sign that the fund has had a major rethinking of economic policy.

For what the paper concludes is not just that austerity has a depressing effect on weak economies, but that the adverse effect is much stronger than previously believed. The premature turn to austerity, it turns out, was a terrible mistake.

I’ve seen some reporting describing the paper as an admission from the I.M.F. that it doesn’t know what it’s doing. That misses the point; the fund was actually less enthusiastic about austerity than other major players. To the extent that it says it was wrong, it’s also saying that everyone else (except those skeptical economists) was even more wrong. And it deserves credit for being willing to rethink its position in the light of evidence.

The really bad news is how few other players are doing the same. European leaders, having created Depression-level suffering in debtor countries without restoring financial confidence, still insist that the answer is even more pain. The current British government, which killed a promising recovery by turning to austerity, completely refuses to consider the possibility that it made a mistake.

And here in America, Republicans insist that they’ll use a confrontation over the debt ceiling — a deeply illegitimate action in itself — to demand spending cuts that would drive us back into recession.

The truth is that we’ve just experienced a colossal failure of economic policy — and far too many of those responsible for that failure both retain power and refuse to learn from experience.

The Amnesia Candidate by Paul Krugman

by Paul Krugman, New York Times, April 22, 2012

Just how stupid does Mitt Romney think we are? If you’ve been following his campaign from the beginning, that’s a question you have probably asked many times.

But the question was raised with particular force last week, when Mr. Romney tried to make a closed drywall factory in Ohio a symbol of the Obama administration’s economic failure. It was a symbol, all right — but not in the way he intended.

First of all, many reporters quickly noted a point that Mr. Romney somehow failed to mention: George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, was president when the factory in question was closed. Does the Romney campaign expect Americans to blame President Obama for his predecessor’s policy failure?

Yes, it does. Mr. Romney constantly talks about job losses under Mr. Obama. Yet all of the net job loss took place in the first few months of 2009, that is, before any of the new administration’s policies had time to take effect. So theOhio speech was a perfect illustration of the way the Romney campaign is banking on amnesia, on the hope that voters don’t remember that Mr. Obama inherited an economy that was already in free fall.

How does the campaign deal with people who point out the awkward reality that all of the “Obama” job losses took place before any Obama policies had taken effect? The fallback argument — which was rolled out when reporters asked about the factory closure — is that even though Mr. Obama inherited a deeply troubled economy, he should have fixed it by now. That factory is still closed, said a Romney adviser, because of the failure of Obama policies “to really get this economy going again.”

Actually, that factory would probably still be closed even if the economy had done better — drywall is mainly used in new houses, and while the economy may be coming back, the Bush-era housing bubble isn’t.

But Mr. Romney’s poor choice of a factory for his photo-op aside, I guess accusing Mr. Obama of not doing enough to promote recovery is a better argument than blaming him for the effects of Bush policies. However, it’s not much better, since Mr. Romney is essentially advocating a return to those very same Bush policies. And he’s hoping that you don’t remember how badly those policies worked.

For the Bush era didn’t just end in catastrophe; it started off badly, too. Yes, Mr. Obama’s jobs record has been disappointing — but it has been unambiguously better than Mr. Bush’s over the comparable period of his administration.

This is especially true if you focus on private-sector jobs. Overall employment in the Obama years has been held back by mass layoffs of schoolteachers and other state and local government employees. But private-sector employment has recovered almost all the ground lost in the administration’s early months. That compares favorably with the Bush era: as of March 2004, private employment was still 2.4 million below its level when Mr. Bush took office.

Oh, and where have those mass layoffs of schoolteachers been taking place? Largely in states controlled by the G.O.P.: 70 percent of public job losses have been either inTexasor in states where Republicans recently took control.

Which brings me to another aspect of the amnesia campaign: Mr. Romney wants you to attribute all of the shortfalls in economic policy since 2009 (and some that happened in 2008) to the man in the White House, and forget both the role of Republican-controlled state governments and the fact that Mr. Obama has faced scorched-earth political opposition since his first day in office. Basically, the G.O.P. has blocked the administration’s efforts to the maximum extent possible, then turned around and blamed the administration for not doing enough.

So am I saying that Mr. Obama did everything he could, and that everything would have been fine if he hadn’t faced political opposition? By no means. Even given the political constraints, the administration did less than it could and should have in 2009, especially on housing. Furthermore, Mr. Obama was an active participant in Washington’s destructive “pivot” away from jobs to a focus on deficit reduction.

And the administration has suffered repeatedly from complacency — taking a few months of good news as an excuse to rest on its laurels rather than hammering home the need for more action. It did that in 2010, it did it in 2011, and to a certain extent it has been doing the same thing this year too. So there is a valid critique one can make of the administration’s handling of the economy.

But that’s not the critique Mr. Romney is making. Instead, he’s basically attacking Mr. Obama for not acting as if George Bush had been given a third term. Are the American people — and perhaps more to the point, the news media — forgetful enough for that attack to work? I guess we’ll find out.


Obstruct and Exploit by Paul Krugman

New York Times, September 9, 2012


Does anyone remember the American Jobs Act? A year ago President Obama proposed boosting the economy with a combination of tax cuts and spending increases, aimed in particular at sustaining state and local government employment. Independent analysts reacted favorably. For example, the consulting firm Macroeconomic Advisers estimated that the act would add 1.3 million jobs by the end of 2012.

There were good reasons for these positive assessments. Although you’d never know it from political debate, worldwide experience since the financial crisis struck in 2008 has overwhelmingly confirmed the proposition that fiscal policy “works,” that temporary increases in spending boost employment in a depressed economy (and that spending cuts increase unemployment). The Jobs Act would have been just what the doctor ordered.

But the bill went nowhere, of course, blocked by Republicans in Congress. And now, having prevented Mr. Obama from implementing any of his policies, those same Republicans are pointing to disappointing job numbers and declaring that the president’s policies have failed.

Think of it as a two-part strategy. First, obstruct any and all efforts to strengthen the economy, then exploit the economy’s weakness for political gain. If this strategy sounds cynical, that’s because it is. Yet it’s the G.O.P.’s best chance for victory in November.

But are Republicans really playing that cynical a game?

You could argue that we’re having a genuine debate about economic policy, in which Republicans sincerely believe that the things Mr. Obama proposes would actually hurt, not help, job creation. However, even if that were true, the fact is that the economy we have right now doesn’t reflect the policies the president wanted.

Anyway, do Republicans really believe that government spending is bad for the economy? No.

Right now Mitt Romney has an advertising blitz under way in which he attacks Mr. Obama for possible cuts in defense spending — cuts, by the way, that were mandated by an agreement forced on the president by House Republicans last year. And why is Mr. Romney denouncing these cuts? Because, he says, they would cost jobs!

This is classic “weaponized Keynesianism” — the claim that government spending can’t create jobs unless the money goes to defense contractors, in which case it’s the lifeblood of the economy. And no, it doesn’t make any sense.

What about the argument, which I hear all the time, that Mr. Obama should have fixed the economy long ago? The claim goes like this: during his first two years in office Mr. Obama had a majority in Congress that would have let him do anything he wanted, so he’s had his chance.

The short answer is, you’ve got to be kidding.

As anyone who was paying attention knows, the period during which Democrats controlled both houses of Congress was marked by unprecedented obstructionism in the Senate. The filibuster, formerly a tactic reserved for rare occasions, became standard operating procedure; in practice, it became impossible to pass anything without 60 votes. And Democrats had those 60 votes for only a few months. Should they have tried to push through a major new economic program during that narrow window? In retrospect, yes — but that doesn’t change the reality that for most of Mr. Obama’s time in office U.S. fiscal policy has been defined not by the president’s plans but by Republican stonewalling.

The most important consequence of that stonewalling, I’d argue, has been the failure to extend much-needed aid to state and local governments. Lacking that aid, these governments have been forced to lay off hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers and other workers, and those layoffs are a major reason the job numbers have been disappointing. Since bottoming out a year after Mr. Obama took office, private-sector employment has risen by 4.6 million; but government employment, which normally rises more or less in line with population growth, has instead fallen by 571,000.

Put it this way: When Republicans took control of the House, they declared that their economic philosophy was “cut and grow” — cut government, and the economy will prosper. And thanks to their scorched-earth tactics, we’ve actually had the cuts they wanted. But the promised growth has failed to materialize — and they want to make that failure Mr. Obama’s fault.

Now, all of this puts the White House in a difficult bind. Making a big deal of Republican obstructionism could all too easily come across as whining. Yet this obstructionism is real, and arguably is the biggest single reason for our ongoing economic weakness.

And what happens if the strategy of obstruct-and-exploit succeeds? Is this the shape of politics to come? If so, Americawill have gone a long way toward becoming an ungovernable banana republic.

The Powell Memo and the Teaching Machines of Right-Wing Extremists by Henry A. Giroux

Truthout, October 1, 2009


… in mobi­liz­ing enor­mous pub­lic sup­port against almost any reform aimed at rolling back the eco­nomic, polit­i­cal, and social con­di­tions that have cre­ated the eco­nomic reces­sion and the legacy of enor­mous suf­fer­ing and hard­ship for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans over the last 30 years….
Part of the answer to the endur­ing qual­ity of such a destruc­tive pol­i­tics can be found in the lethal com­bi­na­tion of money, power and edu­ca­tion that the right wing has had a stran­gle­hold on since the early 1970’s and how it has used its influ­ence to develop an insti­tu­tional infra­struc­ture and ide­o­log­i­cal appa­ra­tus to pro­duce its own intel­lec­tu­als, dis­sem­i­nate ideas, and even­tu­ally con­trol most of the com­mand­ing heights and insti­tu­tions in which knowl­edge is pro­duced, cir­cu­lated and legit­i­mated... there is some­thing more at stake here which points to a com­bi­na­tion of power, money and edu­ca­tion in the ser­vice of cre­at­ing an almost lethal restric­tion of what can be heard, said, learned and debated in the pub­lic sphere.

And one start­ing point for under­stand­ing this prob­lem is what has been called the Pow­ell Memo, released on August 23, 1971, and writ­ten by Lewis F. Pow­ell, who would later be appointed as a mem­ber of the Supreme Court of the United States. Pow­ell sent the memo to the US Cham­ber of Com­merce with the title “Attack on the Amer­i­can Free Enter­prise Sys­tem.“

The memo is impor­tant because it reveals the power that con­ser­v­a­tives attrib­uted to the polit­i­cal nature of edu­ca­tion and the sig­nif­i­cance this view had in shap­ing the long-term strat­egy they put into place in the 1960’s and 1970’s to win an ide­o­log­i­cal war against lib­eral intel­lec­tu­als, who argued for hold­ing gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate power account­able as a pre­con­di­tion for extend­ing and expand­ing the promise of an inclu­sive democ­racy…The Pow­ell Memo is impor­tant because it is the most suc­cinct state­ment, if not the found­ing doc­u­ment, for estab­lish­ing a the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work and polit­i­cal blue­print for the cur­rent assault on any ves­tige of demo­c­ra­tic pub­lic life that does not sub­or­di­nate itself to the logic of the alleged free mar­ket.

…The Pow­ell Memo was designed to develop a broad-based strat­egy not only to counter dis­sent, but also to develop a mate­r­ial and ide­o­log­i­cal infra­struc­ture with the capa­bil­ity to trans­form the Amer­i­can pub­lic con­scious­ness through a con­ser­v­a­tive ped­a­gog­i­cal com­mit­ment to repro­duce the knowl­edge, val­ues, ide­ol­ogy and social rela­tions of the cor­po­rate state. For Pow­ell, the war against lib­er­al­ism and a sub­stan­tive democ­racy was pri­mar­ily a ped­a­gog­i­cal and polit­i­cal strug­gle designed both to win the hearts and minds of the gen­eral pub­lic and to build a power base capa­ble of elim­i­nat­ing those pub­lic spaces, spheres and insti­tu­tions… match their ide­o­log­i­cal fer­vor with their pock­et­books by “dis­burs­ing the col­lec­tive sum of roughly $3 bil­lion over a period of thirty years in order to build a net­work of pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als, think tanks, advo­cacy groups, foun­da­tions, media out­lets, and pow­er­ful lob­by­ing inter­ests.“[8] …

For sev­eral decades, right-wing extrem­ists have labored to put into place an ultra-conservative re-education machine — an appa­ra­tus for pro­duc­ing and dis­sem­i­nat­ing a pub­lic ped­a­gogy in which every­thing tainted with the stamp of lib­eral ori­gin and the word “pub­lic” would be con­tested and destroyed….by the time Ronald Rea­gan arrived in tri­umph at the White House in 1980 the assem­bly lines were oper­at­ing at full capac­ity….a teach­ing machine that pro­duces a cul­ture that is increas­ingly poi­so­nous and detri­men­tal not just to lib­er­al­ism, but to the for­ma­tive cul­ture that makes an aspir­ing democ­racy pos­si­ble. This pres­ence of this ide­o­log­i­cal infra­struc­ture extend­ing from the media to other sites of pop­u­lar edu­ca­tion sug­gests the need for a new kind of debate, one that is not lim­ited to iso­lated issues such as health care, but is more broad-based and fun­da­men­tal, a debate about how power, inequal­ity and money con­strict the edu­ca­tional, eco­nomic and polit­i­cal con­di­tions that make democ­racy pos­si­ble…What must be clear is that this threat to cre­at­ing a crit­i­cally informed cit­i­zenry is not merely a cri­sis of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and lan­guage, but about the ways in which money and power cre­ate the edu­ca­tional con­di­tions that make a mock­ery out of debate while hijack­ing any ves­tige of democ­racy.

Full text

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, echoing the feelings of many progressives, recently wrote in The New York Times about how dismayed he was over the success right-wing ideologues have had not only in undercutting Obama’s health care bill, but also in mobilizing enormous public support against almost any reform aimed at rolling back the economic, political, and social conditions that have created the economic recession and the legacy of enormous suffering and hardship for millions of Americans over the last 30 years.[1] Krugman is somewhat astonished that after almost three decades the political scene is still under the sway of what he calls the “zombie doctrine of Reaganism,” – the notion that any action by government is bad, except when it benefits corporations and the rich. Clearly, for Krugman, zombie Reaganism appears once again to be shaping policies under the Obama regime. And yet, not only did Reaganism with its hatred of the social state, celebration of unbridled self-interest, its endless quest to privatize everything, and support for deregulation of the economic system eventually bring the country to near economic collapse, it also produced enormous suffering for those who never benefited from the excesses of the second Gilded Age, especially workers, the poor, disadvantaged minorities and eventually large segments of the middle class. And yet, zombie market politics is back rejecting the public option in Obama’s health plan, fighting efforts to strengthen bank regulations, resisting caps on CEO bonuses, preventing climate-control legislation, and refusing to limit military spending. Unlike other pundits, Krugman does not merely puzzle over how zombie politics can keep turning up on the political scene – a return not unlike the endless corpses who keep coming back to life in George Romero’s 1968 classic film, “Night of the Living Dead” (think of Bill Kristol who seems to be wrong about everything but just keeps coming back). For Krugman, a wacky and discredited right-wing politics is far from dead and, in fact, one of the great challenges of the current moment is to try to understand the conditions that allow it to once again shape American politics and culture, given the enormous problems it has produced at all levels of American society, including the current recession.

Part of the answer to the enduring quality of such a destructive politics can be found in the lethal combination of money, power and education that the right wing has had a stranglehold on since the early 1970′s and how it has used its influence to develop an institutional infrastructure and ideological apparatus to produce its own intellectuals, disseminate ideas, and eventually control most of the commanding heights and institutions in which knowledge is produced, circulated and legitimated. This is not simply a story about the rise of mean-spirited buffoons such as Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Michael Savage. Nor is it simply a story about the loss of language, a growing anti-intellectualism in the larger culture, or the spread of what some have called a new illiteracy endlessly being produced in popular culture. As important as these tendencies are, there is something more at stake here which points to a combination of power, money and education in the service of creating an almost lethal restriction of what can be heard, said, learned and debated in the public sphere.

And one starting point for understanding this problem is what has been called the Powell Memo, released on August 23, 1971, and written by Lewis F. Powell, who would later be appointed as a member of the Supreme Court of the United States. Powell sent the memo to the US Chamber of Commerce with the title “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System.”

The memo is important because it reveals the power that conservatives attributed to the political nature of education and the significance this view had in shaping the long-term strategy they put into place in the 1960′s and 1970′s to win an ideological war against liberal intellectuals, who argued for holding government and corporate power accountable as a precondition for extending and expanding the promise of an inclusive democracy. The current concerted assault on government and any other institutions not dominated by free-market principles represents the high point of a fifty-year strategy that was first put into place by conservative ideologues such as Frank Chodorov, founder of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute; publisher and author William F. Buckley; former Nixon Treasury Secretary William Simon, and Michael Joyce, the former head of both the Olin Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. The Powell Memo is important because it is the most succinct statement, if not the founding document, for establishing a theoretical framework and political blueprint for the current assault on any vestige of democratic public life that does not subordinate itself to the logic of the alleged free market.

Initially, Powell identified the American college campus “as the single most dynamic source” for producing and housing intellectuals “who are unsympathetic to the [free] enterprise system.”[2] He was particularly concerned about the lack of conservatives on social sciences faculties and urged his supporters to use an appeal to academic freedom as an opportunity to argue for “political balance” on university campuses. Powell recognized that one crucial strategy in changing the political composition of higher education was to convince university administrators and boards of trustees that the most fundamental problem facing universities was “the imbalance of many faculties.”[3] Powell insisted that “the basic concepts of balance, fairness and truth are difficult to resist, if properly presented to boards of trustees, by writing and speaking, and by appeals to alumni associations and groups.”[4] But Powell was not merely concerned about what he perceived as the need to enlist higher education as a bastion of conservative, free market ideology. The Powell Memo was designed to develop a broad-based strategy not only to counter dissent, but also to develop a material and ideological infrastructure with the capability to transform the American public consciousness through a conservative pedagogical commitment to reproduce the knowledge, values, ideology and social relations of the corporate state. For Powell, the war against liberalism and a substantive democracy was primarily a pedagogical and political struggle designed both to win the hearts and minds of the general public and to build a power base capable of eliminating those public spaces, spheres and institutions that nourish and sustain what Samuel Huntington would later call (in a 1975 study on the “governability of democracies” by the Trilateral Commission) an “excess of democracy.”[5] Central to such efforts was Powell’s insistence that conservatives nourish a new generation of scholars who would inhabit the university and function as public intellectuals actively shaping the direction of policy issues.

He also advocated the creation of a conservative speakers bureau, staffed by scholars capable of evaluating “textbooks, especially in economics, political science and sociology.”[6] In addition, he advocated organizing a corps of conservative public intellectuals who would monitor the dominant media, publish their own scholarly journals, books and pamphlets, and invest in advertising campaigns to enlighten the American people on conservative issues and policies. The Powell Memo, while not the only influence, played an important role in convincing a “cadre of ultraconservative and self-mythologizing millionaires bent on rescuing the country from the hideous grasp of Satanic liberalism”[7] to match their ideological fervor with their pocketbooks by “disbursing the collective sum of roughly $3 billion over a period of thirty years in order to build a network of public intellectuals, think tanks, advocacy groups, foundations, media outlets, and powerful lobbying interests.”[8] As Dave Johnson points out, the initial effort was slow but effective:

In 1973, in response to the Powell Memo, Joseph Coors and Christian-right leader Paul Weyrich founded the Heritage Foundation. Coors told Lee Edwards, historian of the Heritage Foundation, that the Powell Memo persuaded him that American business was “ignoring a crisis.” In response, Coors decided to help provide the seed funding for the creation of what was to become the Heritage Foundation, giving $250,000.

Subsequently, the Olin Foundation, under the direction of its president, former Treasury Secretary William Simon (author of the influential 1979 book “A Time for Truth”), began funding similar organizations in concert with “the Four Sisters” – Richard Mellon Scaife’s various foundations, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Olin Foundation and the Smith Richardson Foundation – along with Coors’s foundations, foundations associated with the Koch oil family, and a group of large corporations[9].

The most powerful members of this group were Joseph Coors in Denver, Richard Mellon Scaife in Pittsburgh, John Olin in New York City, David and Charles Koch in Wichita, the Smith Richardson family in North Carolina, and Harry Bradley in Milwaukee – all of whom agreed to finance a number of right-wing think tanks, which over the past thirty years have come to include the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Koch Foundation, the Castle Rock Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation. This formidable alliance of far-right-wing foundations deployed their resources in building and strategically linking “an impressive array of almost 500 think tanks, centers, institutes and concerned citizens groups both within and outside of the academy…. A small sampling of these entities includes the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Hoover Institution, the Claremont Institute, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, [the] Middle East Forum, Accuracy in Media, and the National Association of Scholars, as well as [David] Horowitz’s Center for the Study of Popular Culture.”[10]

For several decades, right-wing extremists have labored to put into place an ultra-conservative re-education machine – an apparatus for producing and disseminating a public pedagogy in which everything tainted with the stamp of liberal origin and the word “public” would be contested and destroyed. Commenting on the rise of this vast right-wing propaganda machine organized to promote the ideal that democracy needs less critical thought and more citizens whose only role is to consume, well-known author Lewis Lapham writes:
The quickening construction of Santa’s workshops outside the walls of government and the academy resulted in the increased production of pamphlets, histories, monographs and background briefings intended to bring about the ruin of the liberal idea in all its institutionalized forms – the demonization of the liberal press, the disparagement of liberal sentiment, the destruction of liberal education – and by the time Ronald Reagan arrived in triumph at the White House in 1980 the assembly lines were operating at full capacity.[11]

Any attempt to understand and engage the current right-wing assault on all vestiges of the social contract, the social state and democracy itself will have to begin with challenging this massive infrastructure, which functions as one of the most powerful teaching machines we have seen in the United States, a teaching machine that produces a culture that is increasingly poisonous and detrimental not just to liberalism, but to the formative culture that makes an aspiring democracy possible. This presence of this ideological infrastructure extending from the media to other sites of popular education suggests the need for a new kind of debate, one that is not limited to isolated issues such as health care, but is more broad-based and fundamental, a debate about how power, inequality and money constrict the educational, economic and political conditions that make democracy possible. The screaming harpies and mindless public relations “intellectuals” that dominate the media today are not the problem; it is the conditions that give rise to the institutions that put them in place, finance them and drown out other voices. What must be clear is that this threat to creating a critically informed citizenry is not merely a crisis of communication and language, but about the ways in which money and power create the educational conditions that make a mockery out of debate while hijacking any vestige of democracy.

[1] Paul Krugman, “All the President’s Zombies,” The New York Times (August 24, 2009), p. A17.
[2] Lewis F. Powell Jr., “The Powell Memo,” (August 23, 1971), available online at
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] See Michael P. Crozier, Samuel. J. Huntington and J. Watanuki, “The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission” (New York: New York University Press, 1975).
[6] Powell, “The Powell Memo.”
[7] Lewis H. Lapham, “Tentacles of Rage – The Republican Propaganda Mill, a Brief History,” Harper’s Magazine (September 2004), p. 32.
[8] Dave Johnson, “Who’s Behind the Attack on Liberal Professors?” History News Network, (February 10, 2005), available online at
[9] Ibid.
[10] Alan Jones, “Connecting the Dots,” Inside Higher Ed (June 16, 2006), available online at
[11] Lapham, “Tentacles of Rage,” p. 38.


Who’s Very Important? By Paul Krugman

New York Times, July 12, 2012


“we are V.I.P.” crowd has fully captured the modern Republican Party…“It’s really American to avoid paying taxes, legally,” declared Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina… America wasn’t always like this. When John F. Kennedy was elected president, the top 0.01 percent was only about a quarter as rich compared with the typical family as it is now — and members of that class paid much higher taxes than they do today. Yet somehow we managed to have a dynamic, innovative economy that was the envy of the world. The superrich may imagine that their wealth makes the world go round, but history says otherwise.

To this historical observation we should add another note: quite a few of today’s superrich, Mr. Romney included, make or made their money in the financial sector, buying and selling assets rather than building businesses in the old-fashioned sense……we have a lot of historical evidence, going all the way back to the 1920s, on the effects of tax increases on the rich, and none of it supports the view that the kinds of tax-rate changes for the rich currently on the table…So, are the very rich V.I.P.? No, they aren’t — at least no more so than other working Americans. And the “common person” will be hurt, not helped, if we end up with government of the 0.01 percent, by the 0.01 percent, for the 0.01 percent.

Full text

“Is there a V.I.P. entrance? We are V.I.P.” That remark, by a donor waiting to get in to one of Mitt Romney’s recent fund-raisers in the Hamptons, pretty much sums up the attitude of America’s wealthy elite. Mr. Romney’s base — never mind the top 1 percent, we’re talking about the top 0.01 percent or higher — is composed of very self-important people.

Specifically, these are people who believe that they are, as another Romney donor put it, “the engine of the economy”; they should be cherished, and the taxes they pay, which are already at an 80-year low, should be cut even further. Unfortunately, said yet another donor, the “common person” — for example, the “nails ladies” — just doesn’t get it.

O.K., it’s easy to mock these people, but the joke’s really on us. For the “we are V.I.P.” crowd has fully captured the modern Republican Party, to such an extent that leading Republicans consider Mr. Romney’s apparent use of multimillion-dollar offshore accounts to dodge federal taxes not just acceptable but praiseworthy: “It’s really American to avoid paying taxes, legally,” declared Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. And there is, of course, a good chance that Republicans will control both Congress and the White House next year.

If that happens, we’ll see a sharp turn toward economic policies based on the proposition that we need to be especially solicitous toward the superrich — I’m sorry, I mean the “job creators.” So it’s important to understand why that’s wrong.

The first thing you need to know is that America wasn’t always like this. When John F. Kennedy was elected president, the top 0.01 percent was only about a quarter as rich compared with the typical family as it is now — and members of that class paid much higher taxes than they do today. Yet somehow we managed to have a dynamic, innovative economy that was the envy of the world. The superrich may imagine that their wealth makes the world go round, but history says otherwise.

To this historical observation we should add another note: quite a few of today’s superrich, Mr. Romney included, make or made their money in the financial sector, buying and selling assets rather than building businesses in the old-fashioned sense. Indeed, the soaring share of the wealthy in national income went hand in hand with the explosive growth of Wall Street.

Not long ago, we were told that all this wheeling and dealing was good for everyone, that it was making the economy both more efficient and more stable. Instead, it turned out that modern finance was laying the foundation for a severe economic crisis whose fallout continues to afflict millions of Americans, and that taxpayers had to bail out many of those supposedly brilliant bankers to prevent an even worse crisis. So at least some members of the top 0.01 percent are best viewed as job destroyers rather than job creators.

Did I mention that those bailed-out bankers are now overwhelmingly backing Mr. Romney, who promises to reverse the mild financial reforms introduced after the crisis?

To be sure, many and probably most of the rich do, in fact, contribute positively to the economy. However, they also receive large monetary rewards. Yet somehow $20 million-plus in annual income isn’t enough. They want to be revered, too, and given special treatment in the form of low taxes. And that is more than they deserve. After all, the “common person” also makes a positive contribution to the economy. Why single out the rich for extra praise and perks?

What about the argument that we must keep taxes on the rich low lest we remove their incentive to create wealth? The answer is that we have a lot of historical evidence, going all the way back to the 1920s, on the effects of tax increases on the rich, and none of it supports the view that the kinds of tax-rate changes for the rich currently on the table — President Obama’s proposal for a modest rise, Mr. Romney’s call for further cuts — would have any major effect on incentives. Remember when all the usual suspects claimed that the economy would crash when Bill Clinton raised taxes in 1993?

Furthermore, if you’re really concerned about the incentive effects of public policy, you should be focused not on the rich but on workers making $20,000 to $30,000 a year, who are often penalized for any gain in income because they end up losing means-tested benefits like Medicaid and food stamps. I’ll have more to say about that in another column. By the way, in 2010, the average annual wage of manicurists — “nails ladies,” in Romney-donor speak — was $21,760.

So, are the very rich V.I.P.? No, they aren’t — at least no more so than other working Americans. And the “common person” will be hurt, not helped, if we end up with government of the 0.01 percent, by the 0.01 percent, for the 0.01 percent.

Critical and higher-level thinking

A Society with Poor Critical Thinking Skills: The Case for ‘Argument’ in Education by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz,, 08/15/2013

Devaluing the Think Tank by TEVI TROY, National Affairs, Winter 2012

Why We Need New Ways of Thinking by Barry Boyce from the Shambhala Sun, September 2008The same old thing doesn’t work… because when it comes to complex, tough problems…we have to go beyond the approaches that got us there in the first place… a loose but growing collection of thinkers, activists, academics, and social entrepreneurs who are searching for the “unthinkable”—the new ways that we can’t see because of our old ways of looking… they all firmly believe that the good old world we’ve come to know and love is coming apart at the seams. Systems of all kinds are breaking down and will continue to do so. In response, they champion ways of seeing and acting that acknowledge that the world is a chaotic, deeply interdependent place, a place that won’t yield to attempts to overpower it. We must come to understand, they argue, the nature of complexity, chaos, and interconnectedness—and to train ourselves in ways of acting that embrace this unmistakable reality. full text

Wisdom: The Forgotten Dimension?  by Mary Jaksch…Wis­dom means hav­ing the moral will to do right by other peo­ple, and to have the moral skill to fig­ure out what doing right means. This is not a new idea; it is some­thing that Aris­to­tle taught in ancient Greece…A wise per­son takes the overview…Com­pas­sion­ate action – the out­flow of wis­dom – hap­pens when we stop being the cen­ter of our concern. Then we can open up to a wider view of real­ity that includes the suf­fer­ing of oth­ers, as well as our own – and  respond with compassion.  full text

Salons: A New Intellectual Culture is Taking Shape Throughout the Country By David Rosen, AlterNet, May 9, 2011 – …a salon…a social venue where people gather to consider pressing social issues or compelling ideas…a new intellectual culture is taking shape throughout the country…an unprecedented flowering of intellectual life is underway. It signals a rebirth of ideas in America.
This new intellectual environment takes two principal forms, online and public…The Internet is home to a new intellectual culture….Less discussed are the efforts by people to reclaim public space for discussion and social engagement over ideas…. America is in the midst of the gravest economic and social crisis since the Great Depression and a growing number of people recognize that the nation’s future is at stake. They increasingly reject the politician’s bought-and-paid-for words of reassurance and the swill promulgated by media blowviators. The tempo of political debate is intensifying and people are seeking new, more intimate and engaging forums for discussion, debate and action….They speak to the great desire to not simply seriously intellectually reflect on important issue and meet similar like-minded people, but to fashion a political outlook and activism that truly is personally meaningful and makes a difference. Welcome to the 21st century…

Why Teaching People to Think for Themselves Is Repugnant to Religious Zealots and Rick Santorum by Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed, February 22, 2012

Religious Freedom” and the Conservative Quest for Absolute Truth By Ira Chernus, Religion Dispatches, February 21, 2012

A Crisis from the Top: The Unwisdom of Elites by Paul Krugman, New York Times,

Thinking in More Sophisticated Ways by James R. Flynn, February 27, 2012

A brainpower revolution By Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, December 26, 2011 - This is a moment when policymakers should be thinking big, not small….The complex and difficult questions we’re avoiding, however, may haunt us through the century…It’s crazy to have spent so much brainpower and energy on a skirmish that was purely tactical, while blithely ignoring the enormous challenges we face…The central issue is the prospect of decline. For much of the 20th century, theUnited Statesboasted the biggest, most vibrant economy in the world and its citizens enjoyed the best quality of life. The former is still obviously true; the latter, arguably still the case. But there is a sense that we’re fading — that tomorrow might not be as bright as today. Our systems seem to have become sclerotic…. colleges and universities…medical care…economic mobility…manufacturing sector…rich countries can only excel at high-end manufacturing that requires more brains than brawn. Our future lies in knowledge and information. So let’s go there…The solution that conservatives advocate — let free markets do it — isn’t enough….It’s important to remember that markets are supposed to serve the nation, not the other way around. And it’s important to recognize that while long-term debt isn’t the most urgent problem facing the nation, it has to be addressed. Transformation, after all, isn’t cheap…Is the political system broken? Yes, but this can’t be an excuse. The system didn’t break itself. Our elected officials put in place the rules that create dysfunction — campaign finance regulations that allow money to corrupt the political process, redistricting procedures that ensconce our representatives in districts where they couldn’t lose if they tried. The rules can be changed. But our leaders, beginning with Obama, can’t settle for playing small ball. As he campaigns for reelection, the president’s task is to explain why this is a time to think big — and why we have no choice.

The Value Of Dissent by William G. Bowen, Forbes, September, 2010

President Obama’s Remarks to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, New York Times, March 10, 2009 March 10, 2009

Texas Republicans express ‘regret’ for officially opposing critical thinking skills by Laura Clawson, Daily Kos, June 29, 2012

In Defense of the Generalist by Carter Phipps,, April 26, 2012

The Death of Liberal Arts by Nancy Cook, Newsweek Web Exclusive, April 5, 2010