Open University

Paging Michael Kazin


Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong wander across Michael Kazin's turf, and DeLong isn't being nice about it:

But when I read Paul's call for "smart, bold populism," I am reminded of earlier calls a couple of decades ago by Milton Friedman, Marty Feldstein, and their ilk for smart, bold conservatism or smart, bold libertarianism. But they did not get what they ordered: on the economic policy front the policies of Reagan and of Bush II have been a horrible botch. What populist policies that we can think of would be smart? And how can we make our high politicians allergic to populist policies that are stupid?

Lyndon Johnson, yes. William Jennings Bryan, no.

In Bryan's defense, some Populist policies that were not so bad were substituting the income tax for the tariff, establishing a managed currency, and generally opposing corruption in the press corps and the government.

But of course, I'm pretty sure that's not really what either Krugman or DeLong means. What they seem to mean by populism is, a movement championing the downtrodden, wielding the symbols of oppression against the oppressor. And DeLong seems to demur, noting the dangers of symbolic politics and (tacitly) disputing Krugman's argument for more "workers' bargaining power"--an idea that, let's note, Matthew Yglesias recently proposed as better than most LBJ-like solutions.

Temperamentally, personally, I think I'm with DeLong on this: but temperamentally, personally, I'm not the representative voter. Making a judgment as to whether the Democrats should adopt a more populist approach to politics depends on how you judge that representative voter. Is DeLong right to think she'd be more moved by tax policy proposals than populism?

--Eric Rauchway

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