After my previous post, burdened by the lack of a text for Hillary’s speech today, now I have the text and a bit more to offer. Most of what I said below holds up in light of the actual text. There’s a lot to like in the speech, but in my view there are some serious analytical shortcomings not necessarily visible to the naked eye.
The all-American value of being rewarded when you put in extraordinary effort is upheld. But suppose you don’t feel like making an extraordinary effort, just an ordinary one? Suppose you work to live, not live to work? Don’t you deserve some modicum of economic security? To paraphrase the great Senator Roman Hruska, don’t slackers deserve some representation? (I recently came across this delightful piece on sloth from Thomas Pynchon.)
In a related vein, the middle class is said to need “growth and fairness.” In fact, economic growth is not the be-all and end-all for the working class. You can have growth along with increased inequality, where the benefits to growth are not broadly shared. Have HRC and her economic mavens been asleep for the past two years? I discount the qualifier of ‘fairness’ because its meaning in common political rhetoric has been watered down to the point of meaninglessness.
Several times HRC gives a shout-out to balanced budgets, even paying off the national debt. This is deeply wrong-headed economic policy, especially in the current period. Combined with her tax cut proposals, you have to wonder where any money for her spending initiatives would come from. It suggests she is under some delusion that the elimination of budget deficits under President Bill in the late 90s had something to do with the economic boom. For another view, see my friend Bob Pollin’s book, Contours of Descent.
The critique of the Republican economic policy appears to hinge on a bogus connection between the Bush tax cuts and the 2007-08 financial meltdown. Obama used to flog this horse too, as in “Well they cut taxes and look what happened.” This analysis glosses over the financial deregulation of the 90s in which Bill Clinton played no small part. It fundamentally misunderstands what happened to cause the financial system to blow up.
The rhetoric about “long-term economic value” refers to business investment. More investment is always welcome, but that’s not the biggest problem at the moment. Private investment has recovered reasonably well since 2008. The big shortfall in this mediocre recovery has been in public spending, including public investment, by Federal, state, and local governments.
And finally, there was this, to which I can only say yuck:
“No other country is better equipped to meet traditional threats from countries like Russia, North Korea, and Iran – and to deal with the rise of new powers like China.”
But I’m not doing foreign policy today.
I contend that the points above are not nit-picking but important weaknesses in the speech. I may be some kind of radical crackpot, but the points I make do not rely on any sort of radical economics. If we’re going to take a speech seriously, I think I’m justified in the issues I raise. They are not trivial.