Monday, July 25, 2016

Krugman Takes A Jog Through Versailles

Paul Krugman took a jog through the Upper West Side and concluded America’s just peachy again:
If you want to feel good about the state of America, you could do a lot worse than what I did this morning: take a run in Riverside Park. There are people of all ages, and, yes, all races exercising, strolling hand in hand, playing with their dogs, kicking soccer balls and throwing Frisbees. There are a few homeless people, but the overall atmosphere is friendly – New Yorkers tend to be rushed, but they’re not nasty – and, well, nice.

Yes, the Upper West Side is affluent. But still, I’ve seen New York over the decades, and it has never been as pleasant, as safe in feel, as it is now. And this is the big bad city! 
He took a jog through a rich part of Manhattan and it was, well, nice! There were happy couples holding hands and strolling in leafy glades, and people playing Frisbee and soccer. Some of these people were even brown, and yet they didn’t mug or assault a rich white academic as he was out getting his cardio!

There were a few homeless people, to be sure, but not enough to change the overall picture. You might say they were statistically insignificant and hence easy to disregard. Of course, economists make a living disregarding variables that don’t fit their models. That’s how they win Nobel Prizes and earn enough money to live on the Upper West Side, where they can deplore the evils of inequality without ever having to actually smell a poor person.

But there is a problem. If things are so good, why do so many people think they’re terrible? Why do so many people drink Trump’s Kool-Aid and agree with his dark description of America? The professor gives us his answer:
A lot of Republican-leaning voters apparently believe that the economy is terrible in the teeth of their own experience – that the pretty good job market they see is a local aberration. And “crime” may not really mean “crime” – it may just be code for “brown people.”
In other words, they’re just dumb racists who don’t know how good they’ve got it. They are willfully ignoring good economic news —presumably all those new jobs at Wal-Mart — and insisting things are rotten in the teeth of their own experience. Thus saith the rich man to the proles.

I think it’s true that many, if not most, of Trump’s supporters are ignorant racists, but Trump’s appeal goes much deeper than that. Many of these people are driven to racism and xenophobia because of genuine economic despair. Krugman does not acknowledge this. Instead, he paints a misleadingly rosy picture of the economy that enables him to ignore their legitimate grievances and characterize them as mere bigots.

It’s impossible not to notice that this is the same tactic Krugman used against Sanders and his supporters. Sanders — a demagogic narcissist by definition — pitched a falsely dystopian view of the American economy that his followers mindlessly lapped up, because all of his followers were, as all the grown-ups knew, just dupes, fanatics and possibly sexist “Bernie Bros.”

This condescending dismissal of people with real problems and legitimate complaints will lead to electoral defeat. If policy makers and influential thinkers maintain this attitude in the face of growing discontent it will lead to much worse.

Krugman was one of the few bright lights during the Bush dark age, and it’s disheartening to see an intellectual of his stature stoop to this kind of partisan hackery. More importantly, he’s displaying precisely the kind of elitist liberal arrogance that bolsters Trump’s appeal (and will also drive independents away from Hillary). When influential public intellectuals engage in this kind behavior, it lends credence to the notion that our elites are corrupt, dishonest, and completely out-of-touch.

Stop telling part-time Walmart workers with no prospects for a better life that the economy is pretty good and they have nothing to be angry about. Stop telling retail clerks and baristas who pay more than two-thirds of their income toward rent and student loans that they should be doing cartwheels because the unemployment rate dropped one percent. Stop pissing statistics down people’s backs and calling it rain!

But if you must, don’t do it from the Upper West Side, for God’s sake. Are you bloody daft, man? This is let them eat cake territory. This is an attitude that will catapult Donald Trump straight into the White House.

No comments: