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The Conscience of a Liberal Report (Assessment)

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Updated: May 11th, 2019

The Way We Were

Krugman starts by describing a period of many protests in the 1950s and 1960s (3). He describes it as a period of transition from economic disparity before World War II to a period of economic equality after World War II. Krugman attributes New Deal policies implemented during Roosevelt’s administration to having created the middle class. Thereafter, he develops the theory of movement conservatism that he argues led to the collapse of the New Deal policies.

Krugman describes movement conservatism as a radical force aimed to repeal the New Deal policies. This force is possessed by the Republican Party and its sole purpose is to bring back the economic inequality experience before World War II. He explains its evolution from the time of Reagan’s presidency.

He also writes that, contrary to popular belief, political order is not established by economic patterns. On the contrary, political developments lead these economic trends. He writes that the Republican Party has shifted significantly to the right while the Democratic Party has remained unchanged since the period of Roosevelt. He ends the chapter by stating that Americans have had enough in terms of movement conservatism and income inequality.

The Long Gilded Age

Krugman in an effort to demonstrate common inequalities in income starts by comparing the America before New Deal policies and the era of President George Bush. He then describes the ‘Long Gilded Age’ era as the time from 1870 to 1930 (15). It was a period of prolonged economic inequality. He attributes the voting rights for the upper class, Republican Party dominance and election fraud as reasons for the prolonged inequality. He also suggests that racial and cultural tensions prevented people from ganging up to overcome the inequality.

These racial tensions were mainly between the predominant white and the Africa America black community. Likewise, the common belief that popular opinions could be facts only added to the reasons. However, in spite of the lack of approval from the government, some states began to carry out laws on pension for retirees. The implementation was however slow and small. The Great Depression had to happen for massive changes to take place.

The Great Compression

Krugman describes The Great Compression as a period between the 1920s and 1950s (37). It is a time when economic inequality in America significantly narrowed. In this chapter, he gives the reason for the decline in economic inequality. Due to taxes, the buying power of the upper class significantly reduced from 1920s.

By 1960s, their income was taxed at 90%. The economy continued to grow and did not collapse as many conservatives had expected. This could be attributed to the emergence of middle class who were experiencing a sporadic increase in purchasing power. Good salaries for the middle class increased their purchasing power. Similarly, better social welfare benefits also contributed to increased purchasing power.

These benefits formed part of the New Deal policies. They included health care benefits, unemployment insurance programs as well as retirement benefits. The benefits came about as a result of government bipartisanship and unionized labor. As an example, Krugman suggest how easy and popular it became to own a car to illustrate this decrease in inequality. The rise of middle class was also aided by Eisenhower’s interstate highways. The highway system provided the middle class with a means to use their cars.

The Politics of the Welfare State

In this chapter, Krugman gives reasons for the eventual change to a welfare nation (57). The main reason was the rise of the Democratic Party to power. One of the factors that led to the rise of the party was the naturalization of mostly democrat immigrants. They were now able to vote.

The Southerners also were attracted by the potential benefits associated with a welfare nation. The labor unions also played a big role to the rise of the Democratic Party. They provide the much needed structure, financing and mobilization in the party. Through the unions, the Democratic Party mobilized the mainly middle class to go out and vote. However, Republicans were still able to gain votes from the middle class since the economic policies of both parties at the time were almost the same.

The Sixties: A Troubled Prosperity

In this chapter, Krugman contrasts the rising sociopolitical unrest with the increasing economic prosperity of America in the 1960s (79). He specifically discusses “the explosion of crime, Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the growing welfare rolls, and the 1960s counter culture” (Krugman 79).

In regard to counter culture, the social injustice in terms of police brutality and racial inequality against the African-Americans made them to act violently. However, the middle class continued to grow in spite of these social unrests. Social benefits such as health care, disability cover and unemployment cover were also available.

Finally, Krugman disputes the popular belief that the Democrats were killed by Vietnam and suggests that it was in fact movement conservatism that killed the Democrats. He states that it was in the 1950s that “intellectual” movement conservatism started but it only matured in the 1960s. It was at this time however that movement conservatism as well as neoconservatives got the idea of how well to exploit the social unrest to their advantage.

Movement Conservatism

According to Krugman, William Buckley headed well financed group of conservatives that lobbied for movement conservatism (101). Their objectives included among others, the continued disenfranchisement of the African-Americans. Movement conservatism grew because of several factors.

First, there was the paranoia associated with communism which many Americans thought should be eliminated rather than being contained. Secondly, mid-sized business owners who were against increased benefits for employees also supported movement conservatism.

The neoconservatives also supported movement conservatism. Many economists were against the involvement of the government in economic affairs. They lobbied for the government to be separated from economics. Similarly, sociologists joined them as they opposed liberal ideology.

Both the economists and the sociologists were well funded by conservatives. Conservatives later founded conservative-minded organizations to fund and spread their ideologies. Advancement was however slowed down by the election of Richard Nixon, a Democrat, as president. Nevertheless, the movement still remained active mostly due to issues concerning foreign affairs as well as economic crisis that were prevalent then.

The Great Divergence

In this chapter, Krugman starts by joining major debate that is common among economists (124). The debate is on whether most Americans are at a better financial position since the end of the economic boom in 1973. He analyzes both sides without taking a position.

First, he acknowledges that Americans are experiencing a period of great prosperity. In spite of this, he argues that the median income has significantly deteriorated for each American. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. He attributes this to the decline of unions in the workplace which has led to stagnation of increases in wages and benefits for workers.

The Politics of Inequality

This chapter explains the reasons for the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans. Krugman demonstrates this divide in the actions of both parties; Democrats increase taxation of the rich and the Republicans decrease taxation of the rich (153).

Krugman attributes this inequality to radicalization of Republicans through movement conservatism. Republicans are now constantly seeking to revoke New Deal policies. However, the Democrats have not displayed any radical acts on their part. The Republicans’ radical forces are therefore responsible for that bipartisanship.

Nowadays, by various foundations are busy funding Republicans to radicalize them to the point of extremism. These foundations fund campaigns, take up influential positions in government, and publicly scrutinize anti-radicals. They also fund radical media campaigns to entrench their ideas in the minds of the general public. According to Krugman, bipartisanship has now become a norm though it is still unclear what caused it.

Weapons of Mass Distraction

In this chapter, Krugman talks about the voting microeconomics (173). He also argues that, contrary to popular belief, the GOP has not duped voters. Krugman thinks the utility to vote must be greater than the utility to not vote for a voter to actually vote. This utility cannot be shifted by the campaigning of the political candidates.

He also argues that the American voters have been divided by economic class and race more than they have been divided by religion and war. The patriotism and vote blocking have also shifted the way people vote. Similarly, the rise of immigrants unable to vote and the evolution of Christian evangelical neoconservatives also shifted voter support.

The New Politics of Equality

In this chapter, Krugman starts by looking at the Democratic House and Senate victories in 2006 (198). He posses several questions to the reader as to what this would mean. Would it mean an end to the economic inequality? However, he is of the idea that it is not likely. He also argues that movement conservatism will decline.

First, the current global economic crisis has led to increased calls for government intervention in the economy. Secondly, reforms in health care can be introduced back. Lastly, national security issues and Iraq have lowered the credibility of conservatives. The general public is therefore not easily distracted or persuaded by them.

On the issue of national security, Krugman acknowledges that it is still a future policy maker. In the past, conservative Republicans have portrayed themselves as being tough on issues concerning national security. However, this is unlikely to help conservatives push forward their agenda because on previous mishandling of the war in Iraq.

Mistakes such as insufficient funding of the war due to tax decrements for the rich, massive misappropriation of funds have destroyed the credibility of conservatives. Lastly, the race strategy is no longer a strong one. Krugman argues America is becoming more Hispanic and less white. It is not easy to racially discriminate against African Americans without discriminating against people who are mostly of Hispanic ancestry.

The Health Care Imperative

Krugman starts by discussing the moral ethics of guaranteed health care for the unhealthy at the expense of the healthy (214). He asks whether it is right for the healthy and those able to pay for their health care to be burdened with other people’s inabilities. Using various polls, he concludes that this is morally right.

Furthermore, he writes that “a guaranteed national health care program is supported by majority of Americans” (Krugman 214). Movement conservatives know this but do not want to acknowledge publicly that what they think, that is, universal health care should not be for everyone.

Instead, they say that there is no health care problem and go further to suggest that universal health care will reduce the quality of health care. In their arguments, they also think it will limit the choice of an individual to health care. They also claim it is uneconomical and impossible to implement. These arguments, Krugman argues, are just another way of lobbying for economic inequality within the health care system.

Confronting Inequality

Solutions to economic inequality are discussed in this chapter (244). Krugman states that inequality deprives the middle and lower class off economic progress. Similarly, these people are not able to realize the American dream. As a consequence, politics and society are negatively affected. Inequalities in wages lead to social inequality. The rich live extravagantly and become richer while the poor grow poorer.

In an attempt to mimic the rich, the middle class take up loans to finance basic needs. They are however unable to repay and consequently end up bankrupt. Likewise, political funding to support the ideology of movement conservatism will increase. Lastly, the bonds of society are usually broken by inequality.

Krugman divides inequality of income into two forms. These include disposable income inequality and market inequality. The government generates taxes from market inequalities. The inequality of income after taxes represents inequality of disposable income.

One possible solution that Krugman suggests is the redistribution of bigger portion of income from taxes. This would mean to revise existing policies on tax. Particularly, he suggests reducing the tax cuts for the upper class. Krugman suggests a more elaborate taxation program is needed.

This program will be used to generate enough money to fund all the welfare programs. However, the program should be devoid of any loophole. Similarly, the government must take measure to reduce inequality. Increasing minimum is one of the ways it can do that. Lastly, unionization can also offer a solution. Unions would advocate for workers rights on wages and also mobilize members to be politically conscious.

The Conscience of a Liberal

At the last chapter of the book, Krugman concludes his argument by logically proving an interesting paradox (265). The paradox is that Democrats, while trying to preserve history that Republicans are trying to destroy, have become conservatives while Republicans have become more radical.

However, he is of the idea the two should be integrated, that is, he makes a call to be both conservative and progressive. This simply means to be liberal. Krugman argues liberal is the way to go. A liberal approach will ensure completion of the New Deal as well as the progessive forward movement of the New Deal.

Works Cited

Krugman, Paul. The Conscience of a Liberal. 1st ed. New York: WW Norton & Company, 2009. Print.

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