According to Krugman’s latest column, the difference between Sanders and Clinton is this: Sanders believes that all evil stems from big money; Clinton believes that big money is one evil, but there are also other evils like racism and sexism. How stupid does Krugman think his readers are to hand them whoppers like that? Let’s think this through a little more carefully.

Both Sanders and Clinton are descendants of the upheavals of the 1960s and 70s, so we have to understand those upheavals to distinguish their approaches. This, in turn, requires that we understand the New Deal.

The New Deal turned America from a society run by “robber barons” into a democratizing, working class society, which was committed to providing schools, housing, jobs and health care to all of its citizens. In the 1960s no one doubted that ongoing project and everyone understood its central lesson– the need for government to guarantee basic security to its citizens in order to counterbalance the destructive effects of the market. The New Left was an effort to radicalize the New Deal further, through an emphasis on civil rights, on women’s rights, gay rights and on democratic participation. Unlike right wing liberals like Ira Katznelson, who describe the New Deal as racist, and therefore see the sixties as a total break with the New Deal, figures like WEB DU Bois, CLR James, Ralph Bunche and A. Philip Randolph were part of the New Deal– they were its left wing and in that way the progenitors of the 1960s revolts. The same is true of feminists like Betty Friedan. So, the question posed in the 60s was not the frankly idiotic one– is money the only evil or are racism and sexism evils too?– but rather how to continue the achievements of the New Deal while expanding them into full rights of participatory democracy and social equality xfor African-Americans, for women and for gays. Two different answers were given.

People like Bill and Hillary Clinton believed it was too hard to hold onto both the New Deal and the new understandings associated with anti-racism and anti-sexism at once. In place of that effort they created a new politics that combined anti-New Deal, pro-market economics– “the era of big government is over”– with meritocratic — but never egalitarian– support for racial and sexual equality. That is, they created neo-liberalism, the dominant politics of our time. In 1992, Bill Clinton made Robert Rubin, Chairman of the Board of Goldman Sachs, the Secretary of Treasury and with Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers, the Clinton Presidency instituted the financial takeover of the US economy, with results that we are all familiar with. Obama followed Clinton’s policies. Krugman is the defender of this tradition; working class women and Blacks are among its greatest victims. Sanders, by contrast, was one of the minority left over from the sixties– the losing side– which believed that advances on the racial and sexual front and advances in taming capitalism and bending it to popular ends were linked.

Once this is understood Krugman’s animus becomes clear. Sanders represents the bad conscience of the neo-liberal turn, just as Christ became the bad conscience of the Catholic church. Just as the Grand Inquisitor told Christ that the Church had to be practical and make compromises, so Krugman tells Sanders that in the real world we need to accept the fact that money rules, and that this is not so bad since its only one evil among many. If we follow Krugman’s advice, the question of which evil– plutocracy, racism and sexism– will rule will be moot; symbols aside, they work together very well.

7 thoughts on “Paul Krugman and the Grand Inquisitor

  1. There exists a whole industry of demonizing Paul Krugman, most of it in right wing blogs. Now he may be right or wrong in each of his many columns and opinions – but stupid he is not, nor are his readers, and he knows that.

    One can only take this post here as confirmation that the agreement between the extreme right and the extreme left is becoming more and more complete in the US.

    1. What a ridiculous response. Krugman wrote nonsense when he claimed that Sanders was only concerned about economic inequality. He couldn’t even begin to justify that assertion, so he didn’t. Sanders clearly is more progressive on social issues and those regarding race/ethnicity than the neoliberal Clinton.

      Your dishonesty, however, is so f*cking transparent. There is no “agreement” between the so-called “extreme left” and extreme right, and even suggesting that Sanders is part of the “extreme left” disqualifies you to particpate in any reasoned debate.

      1. Krugman may be right or wrong. Sanders may have better or worse ideas than Clinton. I may agree with one or the other or the 3rd in one point, and disagree on another, and I may be ridiculous. So far so good.

        The concept that anyone who disagrees with you is stupid, corrupt dishonest, disqualified, and evil, is not compatible with democratic debate.

        To correct the record on one point: I do not find Bernie’s positions extreme. The position that whoever does not support Sanders is stupid, evil, and disqualified from debating is extreme.

  2. “The New Deal turned America from a society run by “robber barons” into a
    democratizing, working class society, which was committed to providing
    schools, housing, jobs and health care to all of its citizens.”

    So long as they were white.

  3. While one can disagree with Krugman, especially for his failure of imagination when it comes to actually changing the system, he has always been a perceptive critic of the way that American capitalism works in the real world. That is why is sudden discovery of Clinton’s “realism” I.e. acceptance of the limits of the system, is so disappointing. One only has to look back at his columns urging Obama not to accept those limits in 2009-2010, especially where the stimulus and the ACA are concerned. It is one thing to prefer one candidate to another, but it is at best disingenuous to argue against yourself in order to do so. I don’t impugn his motives. Surely he knows that a “realist” such as Clinton would never appoint a critic of the system to the Treasury, at least he ought to. . One can only remember his dismay at Obama’s economics appointments.

  4. NY Times. Yesterday I tried to post a comment to an article on the NYT about Bill’s support to Hill against Sanders. Many articles of the NYT display the voice of Hill’s supporters, many against Sanders; but very few report what Sanders (and also what Rubio and Cruz) say. All opinion writers like Krugman, and not only, seem to be aligned to this trend pro-Hill in the NYT. Then, I asked in the post: what should a reader understand from this elections’ coverage on this specific newspaper? The post was not published by the moderator.

Leave a Reply