[Update] On Paul Krugman's "Let's Not Make a Deal"

Paul Krugman is one of the most influential writers on the Left. Perhaps the most influential, depending on how one defines 'Left'.  He says "No" to the just concluded with the Republicans where the Bush tax cuts for the rich do NOT expire as stipulated for this year in the original legislation, although he admits it has some improvements over expectations in the area of tuition credits, and the 2-year postponement of the wealthy tax cut expiration, and the payroll tax cut.  Even though income tax rates for working people will rise 3-5%, and perhaps more for those workers with any capital gains, he still votes “no”.  Even though saying "No" also imperils a deal on extending unemployment benefits (the most immediate requirement) -- also now held hostage to Republican demands to extend tax cuts for the rich. Even though, as he admits, it is "politically risky", he still says “no”.

Risky? I'll say! Proposing not probable -- but certain -- cash pay cuts to workers in the middle of this phony "unemployment-is-still-rising" recovery -- is very risky indeed, and a tall order for millions of workers to swallow. His reasons for assuming  the risk now are that 1) the budget really cannot sustain the cuts in revenue unless the tax cuts for the rich expire; and 2) he argues that conceding to Republicans now will guarantee even more fierce attacks on social security and Medicare and other "entitlements" (read rights) later.  (And this does not to mention the DREAM Act, START and many other matters stalled by the blockade of Republicans insisting that their big contributors from the past campaign are rewarded with the Christmas present they asked Santa to bring.)

Krugman, in effect, says: let's go on strike now (everyone makes a sharp short-term sacrifice toward a longer term right or security). Let working people suffer the tax rise and postponed unemployment extension in a soldierly way, regardless of the stress; and let this sacrifice be over higher taxes for the rich and the implications of failure there for the future. My education on strike related matters in the United Electrical Workers (UE) emphasized carefully calculating relationships of forces prior to a strike was always key in determining whether the union would survive, never mind prevail, in the ensuing struggle.

I say "Yes" to the 'deal', though shouts and protests at the utter hypocrisy of the Republican and Blue Dog forces should be heard across the land. But having a showdown fight (where the workers have to take a big hit at the git) on the tax question is suckers bait, right now. An invitation to greater divisions. Not because the risks of letting the rich off the hook are not as Krugman states. They are indeed high. And extending the cuts for the rich is fundamentally wrong.  The President however disdained the additional sacrifice on American working people that would result if ALL the tax cuts expire, which is the outrageous extortion the Republicans are pulling. He said, explaining the compromise:

“"I am not willing to let working families across this country become collateral damage for political warfare here in Washington," he said. "The American people didn't send us here to wage symbolic battles or win symbolic victories."

I agree, although Krugman is correct in pointin out that the issue is more than symbolic. Further,  the President’s promises here I think overstate what the tax cuts and unemployment insurance can accomplish on their own :

“It’s not perfect, but this compromise is an essential step on the road to recovery,” Mr. Obama said. “It will stop middle-class taxes from going up. It will spur our private sector to create millions of new jobs, and add momentum that our economy badly needs.”

It will take MUCH MORE to “create millions of jobs”. Hopefuly that speech is code for the point that “millions of jobs” and “momentum” in that direction is indeed the guiding objective and focus. There is not much time to be tarrying on the subject.

If indeed we are all going to go on strike, and win, I think it has to be on the MOST important question.  That question is jobs. If we are going to defeat the "austerity" campaign of the Republicans and financial forces it will be directly on jobs. Significantly reducing unemployment is also the acid political  test, IMHO, that will determine if the President will be re-elected.

Its better to get unemployment extension and tax cuts for workers passed, even if dirtied, and then use the latest unemployment numbers to COMPLETELY RESTART the Jobs debate. The much stronger JOBS-FIRST alternative budget reports of the Citizens Commission, as well as several positions of members of the president's deficit commission who were not in agreement with co-Chairmen Alan Simpson's and Erskine Bowles' austerity positions, provide excellent opportunities, and good platforms from which to make a much more united and broader stand. It is a solid foundation on which to defeat the phony deficit and "bond vigilante" diversions. If the right wing is determined to paralyze the government's response to the economic crisis, let it all come to a grinding halt on the most important question -- job creation.

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  • @PoliticallyCorrect-er

    "The President said that Americans don't want politicians fighting "Symbolic" fights; they want results. He's right."

    Tell me: is this the same President who recently announced a wage freeze for civilian federal workers, because he wanted to look "concerned" about the deficit -- even though a wage freeze will have no practical effect on the deficit?

    Wise up. Obama objects to the "symbolic" fight surrounding the tax sell-out only because he's getting the worst of it, and for no greater reason.

    And the substance of the quote is just not true anyway. Symbolic fights are often the most important.

    Posted by Trailer Trash, 12/08/2010 10:19pm (7 years ago)

  • Norman Markowitz hit the nail on the head. While there are short-term gains for the working class (extension of UI benefits; payroll tax cut), what we are being given with one hand, will be taken away with the other. And even worse.
    When it comes time to pay the piper for the enormous increases in the deficit that this compromise will entail, do you think it's the wealthy who will pay the consequences. We will see Absolutely BRUTAL attacks on Social Security and other social programs.
    I will personally benefit in the short-term from this compromise. But I would still MUCH rather see the President stand with the Democrats in Congress, not to mention stand with the American people...who reject these billionaire giveaways overwhelmingly in poll after poll.
    Finally, if nothing else clarifies the point, look at how the forces are lining up re: this compromise. Praising Obama are Business interests and Republicans, who say "finally" he's "reaching out" to them. On the other side, the AFL-CIO and the progressive base which elected him.
    This is not good policy, nor good politics, in my opinion. And by the way, I've been constantly defending Obama from criticism on the Left. I recognize the many important things he's accomplished. He's an ENORMOUS improvement over Bush. But I can't defend his actions the past couple of weeks....first, freezing federal employee salaries and now this. It's not good.
    OF course, the Republicans are the main enemy.
    OF course, we must maintain center-left unity (even though the President's not making it any easier)
    But we don't have to be the last folks on the Left to admit that Obama has NOT consistently represented workingclass interests.

    Posted by Brad, 12/08/2010 6:02pm (7 years ago)

  • ok, but we should remember that even with the extension of unemployment benefits and also the reduction in regressive social security payroll taxes, the continuation of these tax cuts will only increase the debt, which will make the kind of public works and job creation policies the AFL-CIO and others are calling for much harder, and be regarded as a victory by large capital, which will then push for more.
    Also, John, Krugman is perhaps the leading liberal economist reaching a large audience(liberal in the New Deal liberal/labor Keynesian sense of the word). We shouldn't say that he is "one of the most influential writers on the left" which he would never say, and we won't really have much of a left if we find ourselves theoretically to the right of Krugman
    We can't close our eyes to the growing disillusionment with the Obama administration, which is becoming more and more of a rejection of Obama's leadership. We have got to find a way to separate ourselves from the administration's concessions without attacking the administration itself, to educate and organize around our program as necessary to the defense of working class interests. Ending the tax giveways and advancing a national jobs program are in the immediate interests of the working class. Maintaining these giveaways without a jobs program, even with the extension of unemployment benefits(a jobs program of course would be a much better answer than extending unemployment benefits) will only create similar situations in the future and at best make unemployment benefits into something like a new poor law, as against part of a social safety net whose purpose is to create jobs, maintain work skills, and put the unemployed back to work asap

    Posted by norman markowitz, 12/07/2010 2:29pm (7 years ago)

  • @Daniel

    Find the official positions of the "CP" at CPUSA.org.

    Also, so what you're saying is that if the filibuster rules were different – despite the unlikelihood they would have been able to keep their coalition together – you'd been down with them?

    Posted by Joel Wendland, 12/07/2010 10:53am (7 years ago)

  • When push comes to shove, I certainly agree that a "deal" to ensure unemployment compensation for the growing poor of this country must be accepted if it were the only choice. However, it is not the only choice. I think what is forgotten here is that we are still in the lame duck session before the Republican take-over happens next year. The problem with the Democrats is that they create false dilemmas (e.g., by claiming they need 60 votes in the Senate when they do not) to mask the fact that they are not really progressive -- that they do not really want what they claim (e.g., a public option for health care, the end to tax cuts for the rich). So, in the end, we are left with a "compromise" which was the intended result to begin with. The fact that the CP cannot or will not see this, and instead continues its slavish devotion to the Democrats, is shocking and infuriating.

    Posted by Daniel Kovalik, 12/07/2010 10:17am (7 years ago)

  • ...Well, not to mention that Republicans were holding the DREAM Act, DADT repeal, START, and just about anything else hostage to tax cuts for the rich...

    Posted by Joel Wendland, 12/07/2010 9:05am (7 years ago)

  • People say he should fight or he's caving in. They don't seem to understand that this is the fight to extend unemployment benefits.

    When Dems had the momentum and the leverage they could overcome GOP filibusters of UI extensions. they no longer have that momentum.

    The President said that Americans don't want politicians fighting "Symbolic" fights; they want results. He's right. Working families have been harmed by Republicans holding UI benefits hostage and filibustering votes on continuing middle-income tax cuts. But pretending its better for the Dems to hold UI benefits hostage to simply make a point – and nothing more – on taxes is whacko.

    But what the President doesn't say is that just getting a real vote UI extensions has been a fight all along. Today the stakes are higher than they ever have been. They balance of forces has changed, and thus the nature of the fight has changed.

    And if people who are demanding a symbolic fight are honest, I wonder to what extent they actually fought to win continued momentum and leverage for the Dems and this fight by working in this past election on behalf of Dem candidates – especially ones they didn't like. Or to what extent they simply spread cynicism about the shortcomings of the legislative battles over the pat two years.

    Posted by PoliticallyCorrect-er, 12/07/2010 7:02am (7 years ago)

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