January 21, 2008

Review: Paul Krugman, Conscience of Liberal

Filed under: Netroots, politics — Tags: — ubikcan @ 9:29 am

A review of Krugman’s new book, Conscience of a liberal:

What makes the book invaluable, however, is how he ties together economics and politics. Whereas 15 years ago he tepidly complimented Galbraith for “breaking new ground in the relationship between politics and economics,” politics is now at the heart of Krugman’s economic explanations for what’s happened with inequality in the US since the 1970’s.

Earlier in the review, the reviewer picks out the importance of a netroots progressive movement. It’s good to see a wider vision than just winning the next election being articulated here, as well as giving a sense on how these things fit and work together.

Being a liberal is not enough, however. To enact liberal policies and nurture American democracy, it is necessary to have a progressive movement, one which includes mainstays of the traditional liberal movement (such as a revitalized labor movement) with “novel entities like the ‘netroots,’ the virtual community held together by bloggers and progressive websites like Daily Kos, which now attracts regular postings from leading Democratic politicians.” But unlike movement conservatism, which is a top-down phenomena, the progressive movement Krugman embraces is not centralized:

What makes progressive institutions in to a movement isn’t money; It’s self-perception. Many Americans with more or less liberal beliefs now consider themselves members of a common movement, with the shared goals of limiting inequality and defending democratic principles. The movement reserves it’s greatest scorn for Democrats who won’t make a stand against the right, who give in on Social Security privatization or escalation in Iraq.

These statements come near the end of the book, when any reasonably liberal person would realize the dire need for a progressive movement, and the tremendous opportunity available to tough, committed and idealistic progressives.

The reviewer, DHinMI, ends by returning to something that has been of concern here before, namely what is the proper role of partisanship (is it true to principles full-throated advocacy or is it blocking compromise):

In August I argued that we can’t wait for bipartisan solutions. Around the same time Krugman was finishing his book with the same conclusion:

To be a progressive, then, means to be a partisan—at least for now. The only way a progressive agenda can be enacted is if Democrats have both the presidency and a large enough majority in Congress to overcome Republican opposition. And achieving that kind of political preponderance will require leadership that makes opponents of the progressive agenda pay a political price for their obstructionism—leadership that, like FDR, welcomes the hatred of the groups trying to prevent us from making our society better.


For now, being an active liberal means being a progressive, and being a progressive means being partisan. But the end goal isn’t one-party rule. It’s the reestablishment of a truly vital, competitive democracy. Because in the end, democracy is what being a liberal is all about.


(And this book could usefully be read alongside another book by the same name, by Senator Paul Wellstone.)

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