Jonathan Chait

Economic Sabotage vs. Rationalization

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Jonathan Bernstein objects:

I disagree with Jonathan Chait, who basically accuses the Republicans of preferring the economic conditions that would help them elect a president in 2012.

I ought to clarify this. I certainly don't think Republicans are consciously taking steps they think will hurt the economy. That isn't how most brains work. Rather, they understand that the state of the economy is the primary variably impacting their chances of regaining power, and then reasoning toward a view of the economy that melds their self-interest with their perception of the public good:

McConnell is obviously well aware that maintaining a poor economy is the key to his party's success next year. He's a very cynical man, but he's probably not cynical to wake up every day plotting ways to keep unemployment high.

Rather, the question of economic stimulus is always a long-term versus a short-term calculation. You take on more debt for the long term in order to alleviate today's economic emergency. The mainstream economic position has been, and to a somewhat lesser extent remains, very friendly to the view that the current emergency is dire enough to justify taking on more debt to alleviate. But when you change the question to, should we take on more debt to alleviate mass suffering and improve Obama's reelection prospects, then suddenly it's easy to understand why Republicans would persuade themselves that no stimulus meets the test.

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