No one who has written about Kansas politics can be unfamiliar with Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated Sunday as he was entering the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita. Tiller has been the target of the state’s right-wing Republicans for two decades. He was also the focus of the fanatical anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue, founded by Randall Terry, which is now headquartered in Wichita.
As Barack Obama ponders who to appoint to the Supreme Court, recent polls from Pew and Gallup are showing that Americans have become less supportive of abortion rights. In the Gallup poll, more Americans chose to call themselves "pro-life" than "pro-choice"--by 51 to 42 percent. That's the first time pro-lifers have outpolled pro-choicers since Gallup began asking this in 1995.The political reaction to these results has been predictable.
Almost four months after his inauguration, President Barack Obama is still riding high in the polls. According to Gallup, 66 percent of Americans approve of the job he is doing. But I expect that Obama’s popularity will begin to fall, even plummet, as the leaves turn brown.
My colleagues Frank Foer and Noam Scheiber have written a compelling account of the Obama administration’s approach to economic policy. And although I don’t pretend to know the president’s mind, I might agree with their summary statement that “Obama has no intention of changing the nature of capitalism.” Still, I want to make what may seem to be a paradoxical argument: that regardless of the president’s intentions, he will change American capitalism in fundamental ways--in particular, he will alter the relationship between the government and the economy.
One of the most important lessons of Karl Marx’s Capital is that capitalism is not a self-regulating mechanism (with which the government interferes at its own peril), but a set of government-enforced social relations that structure the production and distribution of wealth. These relationships--depicted in Economics 101 textbooks as “natural” rather than “man-made”--are largely invisible except in times of economic crisis, when they can become key factors in shaping the government’s response.
There is no question that the Obama administration has abandoned any vestige of laissez-faire capitalism. It may not be socialism, and it’s certainly not fascism, as some idiots--sorry, conservative thinkers--have declared, but it is at the least capitalism with a very strong dose of state planning. The real question is on behalf of whom, or under whose dictates is the planning being conducted.
Being Treasury secretary is usually not a job that calls for great political skills. But with a banking crisis crippling the economy and threatening to turn a recession into a depression, Tim Geithner has been plunged into the center of politics--as both the person responsible for what the administration should do, and as the main exponent of that policy. But he has faltered in crafting an effective policy and failed miserably in putting it forward.
When the economy goes south, one name invariably surfaces on the lips of pundits and economists: John Maynard Keynes. That is because the twentieth century's greatest economist is generally associated with the idea that markets require government intervention in order to function properly. During boom times, when the market seems to be working, no one has any use for Keynes's skepticism toward unrestrained capitalism. But, during recessions--when the economy grinds to a halt and Washington suddenly looks like the only thing that can save it--Keynes invariably enjoys a revival.