My initial reaction to Sabotage: How the Republican Party Crippled America’s Economic Recovery was an incredulous, “Jeez, will anyone really get snookered into blaming the Republicans for that at this point in affairs?” And then yesterday happened, and we all realized we’d probably have to vote for Obama again, because the conservatives will always be better at the whole “nihilism” thing than liberals. This book is a useful source of the talking points Democratic Party operatives will repeat so relentlessly between now and November they might actually succeed in dissuading any self-respecting leftist who can still afford cable from voting at all.
As for me, my cable switched off at some point during the whole debt limit standoff that is the focus of this book, so I’ll be pulling the lever for Obama in spite of the efforts of consensusphere pundits like Daniel Altman to remind me how pathetic the Democratic establishment is. But this almost mysteriously “To be sure” graf bereft effort to depict the Republican Party as the villains behind our economic distress does not make me feel any better about that choice.
While I was unaware of Altman prior to this assignment, a five second Google was sufficient to provoke a degree of shame over this fact: the guy is clearly very important. He possesses a Harvard economics PhD, membership in the Council on Foreign Relations, and the title “Director of Thought Leadership” at something called Dahlberg Global Development Advisors. A former staffer for the Economist, he was apparently not sufficiently ridiculous to “crack the magazine’s influential inner core”—a priesthood apparently dominated at the time by such cartoonishly mendacious characters as the suitably named Clive Crook—so he quit at the age of 26 to become (in inter alia) “one of the youngest ever members” of the New York Times editorial board. It’s unclear why the son of a Nobel laureate microbiologist would choose to pursue such a degenerate field as economics, but he observes that unspoken rule of global elites about not speaking ill of elites and makes no apparent apologies for his field in this book.
Altman’s dispute with the GOP is twofold: he takes men like Paul Ryan to task for failing to respect the wisdom and authority of the economics establishment by promoting unnecessary and gratuitous austerity measures—he also faults Gordon Brown with this—while accusing John Boehner of being “more than a little disingenuous” in his assumption of the “good cop” role to his Tea Party brethren. He does not engage with the notion that austerity measures by definition consist of unnecessary and gratuitous good cop/bad cop charades, much less the notion that occurs to me now that the neoliberal economics establishment might have felt a considerable degree of existential threat from the debt ceiling debate if only because it proved that a lush like John Boehner could ultimately play their coveted “good cop” position as well as Peter Orszag or Larry Summers. Having been in frequent contact with lobbyists on both sides of the aisle during Boehner’s stint in this role, I have good news for Altman: John Boehner doesn’t want his job, and the GOP establishment does not want Romney to take Obama’s. As Paul Ryan’s intellectual patron saint Ludwig von Mises knew well, “bad cop” is an infinitely more satisfying role to play than “well-intentioned serious economist” if you are a nihilist.
But maybe I’m just jealous: hell, it could be really great to be one of those Good Cop status quo defenders touring the conference circuit advocating only the most necessary and vital IMF-sanctioned austerity measures and reminding everyone how truly screwed we would be if Paul Ryan were in charge of things. Hopefully Altman will want to talk about that, but whatever the case we’ll definitely be commiserating on the topic of how screwed we will be if Paul Ryan were in charge of things.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]