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Zach Carter Is Much More Than Just Brutalism

Any Blue will most certainly NOT do-- especially now that the Republican Party has transmogrified into a genuine authoritarian fascist party with the Democratic Party moving smoothly right-ward into a status-quo defending, business-friendly conservative party. If the battle royale raging now in the Capitol over Biden's Build Back Better agenda blows up entirely-- a district possibility-- a rational solution would be for the remnants of the mainstream conservative GOP-- perhaps, at best, half the party-- to merge with the Republican wing of the Democratic Party (Blue Dogs, New Dems, No Labels, Problem Solvers... all that garbage) to form a right-of-center conservative party, while the rest of the GOP remains as a christo-fascist, neo-Nazi Party, and progressives adhere to the values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and start a genuinely progressive populist party. After all, a multi-party system is what the times call for, considering all the damage Trump has done to the current system.

Yesterday, one of America's top economic journalists, Zach Carter-- who many DWT readers know best as a musician (see below)-- penned a guest essay for the NY Times, Why Are Moderates Trying to Blow Up Biden’s Centrist Economic Plan?. The irony of this is that during his decades in the Senate, Joe Biden was essentially Joe Manchin, always vying with other conservative Dems-- mostly from the Deep South-- to be known as the least progressive member of the Senate. And the Biden domestic agenda-- almost entirely wrapped up in his Build Back Better/American Family and Jobs plan-- is quite conservative. It's obviously not something Trump-era Republicans would consider conservative, but it sure doesn't satisfy the aspirations and hopes of actual progressives. Remember this ten-year $3.5 trillion package started out as a $6 trillion package that is likely to now be whittled down to a $2 trillion dollar package, perhaps-- if we're lucky-- spread out over 5 years, not 10.

Zach began his essay with some wisdom from Keynes, the bane of so-called "free" market economists like Milton Friedman. No one had ever advocated as successfully as Keynes that governments could and should spend money they didn't have. Zach wrote that "At the close of 1933, the New York Times published an open letter from the British economist John Maynard Keynes to President Franklin Roosevelt offering both high praise and a dire warning. In the first nine months of his presidency, Keynes argued, Roosevelt had proved himself a hero to all those around the world who believed in “rational change” through “the existing social system.” But Keynes saw danger ahead: Without a robust economic recovery, Roosevelt’s reform program would disintegrate, taking with it liberal dreams of reversing the global slide into authoritarianism. Roosevelt didn’t always see eye to eye with Keynes, but he ultimately took the advice, ramping up spending on housing, relief payments and direct hiring to better complement his battles against monopolies and the titans of high finance. The recovery strengthened, and American democracy survived as Europe descended into fascism."

Had Bernie been elected president, I have no doubt that Stephanie Kelton would be Treasury Secretary and the architect of a new American economic system based on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) which would do for the economy today what Keynes did for Roosevelt's America. It's inconceivable, at least to me, that Biden would ever be able to understand and explain MMT or muster any interest in at whatsoever. So...

Keynes’s wisdom resonates today, though the precise contours of our economic dilemma differ. Like Roosevelt, President Biden entered office in a flood of crises. The pandemic was claiming thousands of American lives each day, vigilantes had just stormed the Capitol, and millions of people remained out of work amid soaring inequality. Each of these calamities threatens not only the political viability of Mr. Biden’s political party but also the future of American democracy. The president recognizes the stakes and has bet everything on his economic agenda.
Over the past few weeks, however, centrists in Biden’s own party have been chiseling away at his signature legislative proposal, the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, to the point where the bill’s future is in jeopardy. It is not unheard-of for politicians to disagree with members of their own party, but the recent Democratic attacks on the plan have been remarkable for their incoherence.
The president’s critics have explained their opposition by invoking the supposed sanctity of arcane House procedure, telling constituents that their votes for or against certain parts of the plan are meaningless and issuing economic critiques that make no sense. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia [a raving idiot and self serving crook] upbraided Democratic leadership for running up the “crippling” national debt-- even though Biden has said that the plan will include enough tax increases to make it budget neutral.
There’s a simple reason Biden’s centrist critics can’t seem to explain themselves. The Build Back Better Act is centrism taken seriously-- an effort to fix American democracy through economic support rather than structural political change.
This is not to say Biden’s agenda lacks ambition. It seeks to refit the American economy as an engine of green growth, reassert American geopolitical leadership and support families who want to work. These are lofty aims, but they constitute a thoroughly centrist agenda. None of the left’s priorities from the 2020 presidential primary-- Medicare for All, decriminalized border crossings, a tax on wealth-- appear in Biden’s plan. Nor has the president embraced any of the structural reforms that progressive Democrats have been calling for, such as eliminating the Electoral College, reforming the filibuster or expanding the number of seats on the Supreme Court. Biden is offering recovery and reform in lieu of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont’s political revolution.
Manchin’s critique demands particular attention. In addition to his phantom debt fears, Manchin has accused his Democratic colleagues of using the bill to fan the flames of an “overheating” economy that he insists is already imposing “a costly ‘inflation tax’” on working families.
It’s true that prices have increased unexpectedly this year, and true again that policymakers should be taking reasonable precautions against further increases. But in attacking the Build Back Better plan, Manchin is working against his purported aims. The law is designed not only to support employment but also to reduce inflationary pressure.
Anyone worried about inflation covertly “taxing” household income-- an idea developed by Keynes, incidentally-- should be looking for ways to reduce the cost of major items in family budgets. Americans pay far more for prescription drugs than people in many other developed nations, and a key plank of Biden’s program would allow Medicare to negotiate lower costs with pharmaceutical companies.
And yet last week, Democratic Representatives Kurt Schrader, Scott Peters and Kathleen Rice teamed up with Republicans to scuttle that plan. (House leadership can reintroduce the prescription drug overhaul later in the legislative process, but every Democratic senator will eventually have to approve the deal for it to be enacted.) In a letter explaining her vote, Rice claimed to have concerns about the “fiscal responsibility” of Build Back Better-- but allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies reduces the government’s costs.
Other than a few temporary spikes in the price of used cars and travel, housing has been the single largest contributor to inflation this year. The $327 billion housing proposal that the House Financial Services Committee approved last week eases both the cause and the effect of rising rents by expanding the public and private housing stock and extending rent relief. Crucially, some centrists recognize the merits of that approach-- Senator Mark Warner of Virginia is currently threatening to vote against Build Back Better because he wants to see more federal money devoted to housing support-- but it may not survive the barrage of friendly fire from other quarters.
For most families, the heart of Biden’s bill will be a set of proposals designed to ease the financial pressures of raising children and managing the complications of old age. Child care is a huge budget item for American households. Married parents spend 10 percent of their budgets on child care, while single parents devote roughly a third of their budget to it. Build Back Better not only provides direct relief for those costs but also helps lower other prices across the board.
Inflation emerges when the demand for products outpaces their supply. And a key constraint on supply-- particularly during the pandemic-- is the availability of workers. Establishing a serious national policy for child care and elder care would help parents, particularly women, rejoin the work force and would prevent millions of new parents from dropping out of it.
But the paid family leave proposal drafted by Representative Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the centrist chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is an infuriating mess. Instead of a straightforward cash benefit, Neal envisions a nightmarish arrangement between private insurers, state regulators and federal agencies, all rigorously pushing paper to ensure that new parents don’t get too much money.
John Kenneth Galbraith, the great liberal economist, once referred to his hero Keynes as an avatar of “enlightened conservatism.” In Galbraith’s telling, Keynes so revered the institutions around him-- the British Empire, the Bank of England, the opera-- that he was willing to break with economic orthodoxy to defend them. Mr. Biden’s agenda does represent a break with the policy agenda of the past 30 years, just as Keynes’s and Roosevelt’s did nearly 90 years ago. But it ultimately demands very little from those in power. They need only act according to their own best interests, supporting a program that already conforms to their ideological predilections. Trimming Biden’s agenda for the sake of trimming it is neither enlightened nor conservative; it’s just a waste of time and democracy.

This music helped me get through a year and a half of chemo and stem cell replacement therapy. I did a lot of dancing in my hospital room.

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