Posted by: Dirk | May 12, 2016

NY Times and Bernie Sanders

I understand that in times of love, war and primaries truth doesn’t count much. Nevertheless, I am surprised to see a NY Times article containing paragraphs like these:

In the early decades of the 20th century, local governments across the country poured money and resources into an impressive expansion of secondary education. Between 1910 and 1940, the high school graduation rate of American 18-year-olds increased to 50 percent from 9 percent.

Finally, the government directly created jobs — whether in the burst of infrastructure investment in the 1930s that gave us the Hoover Dam, among other huge projects, or the tenfold increase in federal spending from 1939 to 1945 as the government built up the military-industrial complex to fight Germany and Japan.

Why American politics turned against this successful model of pragmatic policy-making remains controversial. Perhaps it was the increasing footprint of money in politics, which has given more clout to corporate interests lobbying for smaller government and lower taxes. Maybe desegregation led to increasing distrust in government by white voters. Perhaps it was the combination of a recession and high inflation of the 1970s, which discredited interventionist government policies.

The last sentence is a political myth, I think. Vietnam War and oil price shocks played no minor part in the stagflation episode, and both should not be blamed on interventionist government policies. Wage-price spirals might have played a bigger role, but there seems to be a lack of serious research on ‘The Strange Death of Keynesianism’.

The article ends with the sentences: ‘So what’s holding us back? The loss of a vision, once shared across much of the ideological spectrum, of what government can accomplish, when it is allowed to do its job.’

This is a sad end to a story that otherwise inspires hope. I wonder whether a vision that is shared across much of the ideological spectrum is necessary. The way that politics usually works, a simple majority will do. Given that many people prefer not to vote or are disenfranchised, that majority might not be that large in the end. And Sanders has a vision that comes quite close:

The American people must make a fundamental decision. Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all? Are we prepared to take on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class, or do we continue to slide into economic and political oligarchy? These are the most important questions of our time, and how we answer them will determine the future of our country.



  1. Thanks for this thoughtful post. The problems and potential solutions that have inspired support for Bernie Sanders and his policies are real indeed. These earlier periods were apparently not the only times when state intervention was crucial to rising prosperity in the US. I have just started reading ‘America’s Protectionist Takeoff 1815-1914’ by Michael Hudson which documents the tariffs intended to promote industrialisation and rising productivity, allowing rising wages and so benefiting capitalists as much as workers in terms of improved education and working conditions as well as high wages. However, once America was ‘No1’, the balance of power and opinion swung behind free trade policies which benefitted the already powerful and already competitive firms. The author shows how the history of the ‘American School of Political Economy’ has been conveniently forgotten.

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