They’re often referred to in the major media, like the New York Times, as “left-leaning economists.” Although, as Doug Henwood observes, “So slight is their leftward lean that it would require very sensitive equipment to measure.”
So, I’ll just refer to them as liberal mainstream economists, who with colorful language and little in the way of an alternative analysis, have taken to attacking Bernie Sanders and one of his economic advisers, Gerald Friedman.
The language is over the top: Sanders’s proposals are various referred to as “puppies and rainbows” (ramped up to “magic flying puppies with winning Lotto tickets tied to their collars”) and “unicorns.”
And, aside from one careful, critical study of Sanders’s healthcare plan (by Kenneth Thorpe), there’s nothing in the way of an alternative analysis.
All liberal mainstream economists (like Alan Krueger, Austan Goolsbee, Christina Romer, and Laura D’Andrea Tyson) think they have to do is put their signatures to “An Open Letter from Past CEA Chairs to Senator Sanders and Professor Gerald Friedman” and assert, in the name of “responsible arithmetic,” that the Sanders campaign is citing “extreme claims by Gerald Friedman about the effect of Senator Sanders’s economic plan.”
What we’re witnessing is an extraordinary spectacle of all the elements of “liberal ideology“—including, when all else fails, the ultimate threat: a campaign that dare steps outside the liberal mainstream and, thus, “is well on its way to making Donald Trump president.”
It’s as if Sanders has had the temerity of not consulting the liberal establishment in formulating his plans and that Friedman, who has been called out by name, has had the audacity of making headlines without the credential of belonging to the liberal establishment.
The liberal mainstream economists who are now attacking Sanders and Friedman seem to be taking it personally, as if their monopoly on analysis and policy has been challenged.
I guess it has.
So, how should we read Sanders’s plans and Friedman’s analysis of its costs and consequences? My view, for what it’s worth, is that Sanders and Friedman are not presenting a “realistic” proposal that follows the dictates of liberal policies and forecasts. What they’re doing is something bolder: they’re imagining a world in which a wide variety of fundamental changes have been made—a minimum wage of $15 an hour, universal health coverage, free public higher education, massive infrastructure spending, and so on. In such a world, their analysis suggests, there would be much lower unemployment, faster economic growth, and much less inequality than prevail under existing conditions.
It’s as if they’re holding up a mirror to what is being touted by liberal mainstream economists, which shows both that “realistic” policies and forecasts promise more of the same—excessive unemployment, slow growth, and grotesques levels of inequality—and that, as a country, we have the wherewithal to do much better.
Much better than we’re doing right now. And much better than the “liberal fantasy” suggests we can do.
Since liberal mainstream economists are being left behind, all they can do is resort to a language of rainbows, unicorns, and puppies.
Note: Rainbows, Unicorns, Puppies—”a true multiband distortion, with 3 variable signal paths – each with adjustable gain, comp, and level controls – plus clean blend, FX loops, mid boost and master 3-band EQ”—does, in fact, exist.