The art of the possible—and of the not-yet possible

Posted: 21 January 2016 in Uncategorized
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Whenever a commentator declares that “politics is the art of the possible”—and proceeds to make whatever arguments they deem necessary to delegitimize ideas that challenge the current common sense—I’m on my guard. What we’re being told is to accept present conditions as immutable facts of life, and to trim our goals accordingly. We’re being told not to entertain ideas that point in the direction of the not-yet possible.

So it is with Paul Krugman these days. Now that Bernie Sanders has to be taken seriously, Krugman has taken to invoking the art of the possible and, in the process, both rewriting history and declaring that Sanders’s plans represent deceitful fantasies.

In order to make a thinly veiled case for Hillary Clinton against Sanders, Krugman has decided that Too Big to Fail Banks—Bank of America, JPMorgan, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs—which now long after the crash are all Too Bigger to Fail—played no significant role in 2008. Instead, the problem, as Krugman (citing Mike Konczal) sees it, was shadow banking. While breaking up the big banks might not solve all the problems of the financial sector, it’s simply disingenuous to try to whitewash the history of the crash of 2007-08 by arguing that the nation’s largest banks played only a marginal role in creating the conditions of the bubble that eventually burst and, when it did, in bringing the world economy to its knees.

If the art of the possible with respect to financial reform is one or another version of Dodd-Frank, it’s extending private health insurance to cover more people—and decidedly not proposing a single-payer (let along a single-provider) plan. Here, Krugman relies on Ezra Klein to assert that Sanders’s plan is a fantasy, since it relies on cost-savings associated with government setting health reimbursement fees (like the current Medicare system) and it would mean disrupting the existing, private insurance system. And, of course, we can’t have that.

The fact is, Krugman (along with Konczal, Klein, and many others in recent days) is determined to make the American electorate stick to existing policies and policy options, which don’t disrupt business as usual. That’s the art of the possible, as proposed and practiced by Clinton.

What Sanders and his growing number of supporters are relying on is our disenchantment with the existing possibilities, which put us in the Second Great Depression and left too many Americans without decent healthcare, and a desire to make strides that challenge the current common sense and help us imagine the next steps.

That’s politics as the art of the not-yet possible.

Or, alternatively, we can just let Juan Perón take over.

  1. Mark J. Lovas says:

    As you know, it is a sign of Sander’s success, that someone like Krugman is shovelling such bullshit. But I deeply resent the fact that such a pseudo-scientist is using his power and influence to interfere with my chance–and the chance of many others–for a bit of a better life.

  2. Mark J. Lovas says:


  3. BRF says:

    There is another facet to the argument of support for the status quo besides economic policy and that is the legal construct of society which works hand in glove, each with the other. That construct is a hierarchy of corporate framework and commercial law reaching down from the BIS through national corporations such as USA Inc, right down through to school boards, all corporate entities listed under the Dun and Bradstreet number listings. The status quo is cemented into place and will require a vast people’s movement to change this edifice.

  4. lpsdlwyer says:

    One other argument I’ve seen advanced is that most recently by Jonathan Chait (and Barry Deutsch, another blogger I follow); that Hillary Clinton is an accomplished manipulator of the bureaucracy and so can get her ideas through where Sanders can’t because he’s not such a game player. Which only begs the question: If you have all that skill to bend the bureaucracy to your will, but your plans for your presidency don’t change anything, what good is all that skill? (And this leaves out the obvious problems of using said skill to vote for the Iraq war, to press for the bombing of Libya creating a failed state and a training camp for ISIS, and her disastrous convoluted attempt at health care reform.)

  5. mjlovas says:

    I hear someone saying “Your resentment is no argument.” Well, here’s an argument: So far as I know, unless public opinion has changed, most citizens of the USA support single payer. So democracy argues for single payer. If Krugman argues against it, then he’s arguing against democracy.

  6. […] The art of the possible—and of the not-yet possible […]

  7. Pedro says:

    It seems the Very Serious Person Prof. Krugman so enjoys using against Austerians has a way to come back and bite him in the back side.

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