Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dean Baker Explains It All For You -- And Tells You What To Do About It, Too

"The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive"

Creative Commons Download (pdf) [Other formats available through link below]

The blurb:

By Dean Baker (2011)

Progressives need a fundamentally new approach to politics. They have been losing not just because conservatives have so much more money and power, but also because they have accepted the conservatives’ framing of political debates. They have accepted a framing where conservatives want market outcomes whereas liberals want the government to intervene to bring about outcomes that they consider fair.

This is not true. Conservatives rely on the government all the time, most importantly in structuring the market in ways that ensure that income flows upwards. The framing that conservatives like the market while liberals like the government puts liberals in the position of seeming to want to tax the winners to help the losers.

This "loser liberalism" is bad policy and horrible politics. Progressives would be better off fighting battles over the structure of markets so that they don't redistribute income upward. This book describes some of the key areas where progressives can focus their efforts in restructuring market so that more income flows to the bulk of the working population rather than just a small elite.

By releasing The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive under a Creative Commons license and as a free download, Baker walks the walk of one of his key arguments -- that copyrights are a form of government intervention in markets that leads to enormous inefficiency, in addition to redistributing income upward. (Hard copies will be available for purchase, at cost, in the near future.) Distributing the book for free not only enables it to reach a wider audience, but Baker hopes to drive home one of the book's main points via his own example. While the e-book is free, donations to the Center for Economic and Policy Research are welcomed.

Read the book (other formats coming soon)

PDF | Kindle (.AZW) | NOOK (.EPUB) | .MOBI


Professional Economics is dreary -- and mostly false. The fact that "progressive" economists -- even the most mild-mannered of them -- are sidelined and have been for many years while the Chicago Boys have been let loose to run wild is one of the principal shames of my generation (and yes, I do attribute it to the liberationist rhetoric and activism so fundamental to the upheavals of the '60's and what came afterwards). Economic "liberation" leads inevitably to the mess we're mired in now. It should not be.

The answers are simple and straightforward, but as every pundit agrees, "There is no political will to do what is necessary to turn this sucky situation around. None."

Dean Baker, like many who ply his trade, overcomplicates the issue and thesolution, but so what? These days, when only the Chicago School Neo-Liberals have their fingers on the economic trigger for everyone else, even convolution that points in another direction, the right direction, is a worthy exercise.

Read the book. Take action.

October can't come soon enough.


  1. Thanks for the link to the book, I've downloaded the Nook version. Something to read over the weekend perhaps, if I have time. Another economist I like is Michael Hudson:

    Michael Hudson:Latvia’s Road to Serfdom

    One of the things I like about him is that he's willing to use intemperate language about the Chicago School.

  2. Hudson is good, yes.

    The only thing I'd add about Baker is that he has a tendency to overcomplicate things. Like most economists, he relies too much on abstractions when it comes to dealing with the plight of "real people." His solutions in this book -- which is a fairly easy read, praise be -- while sound, would largely be unseen in the short term, though they would be profound over the longer term.

    Really very few want to deal with -- and ceaselessly advocate -- what needs to be done in the short term, though Baker describes it in the book. He points out that the Depression only ended with the advent of WWII and the massive amounts of public spending that occurred. What he doesn't say is that the spending involved putting literally everyone to work -- either in the military or serving the military -- paying them relatively well, and paying for the ceaseless manufacturing of war materiel, which of course would then be destroyed and built again.

    Meanwhile, consumer product availability was strictly limited both at home and on the front lines so that the masses were forced to save the money they were (finally) earning. Profits were restricted, profiteering was punished.

    Baker points out that the spending could have occurred at any time between 1931 and 1941, and had it happened earlier, the Depression would have ended earlier. True enough, but (even leaving aside the War itself, something not so easy to do) there was more to it than just government spending.

  3. It really isn't complicated. Marx was right. Capitalism has profound contradictions in play that render it unsustainable. Since Marx left the scene, we've been able to observe even more striking contradictions than he could not have foreseen, especially along the environmental front.

    Basically, the whole idea of "accumulating wealth" means that it is concentrated in few hands and kept out of the hands of the majority -- taken from them, in fact. Duh, as the young kids used to say. Aside from the moral, ethical and humanitarian issues involved with that, it's simply the worst possible way to generate economic activity itself.

    No one is more inefficient in generating economic activity than a rich person. Give him or her more money and they don't need to spend it, and likely won't. Give the masses more money and they definitely will. They'll always spend virtually their entire paycheck in this economy, now, thus generating economic activity, which means more jobs.

    All economic activity is "redistributive." Conservatives have been able to turn that word into a slur, even though that's exactly what capitalism does, by nature, by definition. It redistributes upwards. It's the most successful engine for economic apartheid ever created, in fact.

    But, again, nothing could be less efficient in a macro sense. Conservatives just hate the idea that the redistributive arrows might point in a different direction. Downward, spread amongst the masses would be the most efficient (by far), ironically, helping those at the top as well.

    But they'll have none of that. And since both parties were captured by the freshwater school, we're not going to see those arrows shift from up to down any time soon.

    I give Dean Baker props for at least attempting to change the arrows of the conversation.

  4. Indeed. Baker has got his eye on the long game, and he's no slouch when it comes to asserting the correctness of his assessment and remedy, and pointing out the massive and multiplying errors of the conventional (Chicago School) economists.

    And he does seem to have had an impact. Austerity, for example, is at least now being acknowledged to have some... erm... "negatives." Questions about its utility in the midst of a recession are at least permissible.

    But it's a long and rocky road back.

    The aggravating thing is that as you say, the solutions are not that complicated, they're well-known, they work, and no one in a position of authority or power wants to use them.

    Isn't that something?

  5. To me, the obvious thing is that all economic transactions involve redistribution. Recycling. Flow. Exchange. It makes zero difference if we're sending tax dollars to DC, or sending consumer dollars to a CEO -- as far as the fundamental exchange goes. It's all flow. It's all redistribution. It's all cycling of money and activity.

    We should know this and then ask, What, exactly, do we want for our money?

    Do we really want one hundred different kinds of deodorant, sugary cereals, pesticides, fast food -- or do we want great public resources like schools, museums, concert venues, national parks, libraries, transportation systems, roads, bridges, EMT, etc. etc.???

    Do we want to pay for things with true anchors here, or with no ties? Do we want to spend our limited, precious, finite resources on things that last, that all Americans can use generation after generation, or on stuff that vanishes, breaks down, needs endless replacement, and depends upon incredibly low wages for workers overseas?

    Priorities, morality and percentages. What percentage of our limited resources should we devote to private and public outcomes? Where do we get the biggest bang for the buck? How can we guarantee good paying jobs here, now, if we leave that all in the hands of a private sector that doesn't care if we have jobs? Because of globalization, it won't be too long before they won't care if we can buy their products, either.

    Solution: shift the balance dramatically toward public works. That guarantees jobs here, now. Good paying jobs as well. At the very least, we should be like the Scandinavian countries. Instead, we're headed for Rand-Hayekistan.

  6. Yep, that's basically it.

    Here's an RSA animation that gets into the vexing problem of "choice."

    We are shifting out of a consumption-driven economy and ultimately it will require the kinds of public works and community service that have long been neglected in pursuit of more material possessions or wealth regardless of their social costs.

    Even the most reactionary thinkers -- as opposed to howlers -- seem to understand that. The nation cannot be sustained on high debt, low employment, wars, and shredded safety nets and absent community services.

    Even the most reactionary understand that is an explosive recipe.

    I think we've gone just about as far down that terminal road as we can.

    The pendulum is nearing the stationary point before swinging back the other way.

    The upshot might be surprising...