Noah, treading water

The often interesting Noah Smith offers a dubious contrast of intellectual vibrancy of left vs. right. On the right we have the Yuval Levin/National Affairs crowd, who as others have observed enjoy little support from the raging id that is the Republican base. The “Reformicons” have been roundly bashed so there is no need in this post to dwell on their dubious ideas. On the left he offers Richard Florida, advocates of schemes to boost savings (like Richard Thaler, Univ of Chicago economist), and Cass Sunstein.

I’ll leave classifications of Florida (the man, not the nutcase of a state) to others. My friend Peter Dorman characterizes him as an advocate of European-style cities. Dorman notes that this does not jibe with Smith’s notion that his leftists have transcended the old ways of social-democracy.

I’m a little tickled that someone attuned to New Keynesian models is taken with savings schemes, since in that context no such scheme enlarges the saver’s lifetime budget set, though it might increase their well-being. I debated the asset builders some time back and basically made that point. You don’t increase incomes of the poor by persuading them to spend it later rather than sooner. As for Sunstein, he’s a deregulator. There could be something to say for all these worthies, but they are a poor sample of the American left.

Instead I would suggest those interested in what’s left to look into events such as this, and journals such as this. Or my blogroll. Noah, you need to get out more.


Noah, treading water — 8 Comments

  1. What struck me about Noah’s list was how it seemed to have arrived via time warp from sometime in the Clinton administration. I mean, “the U.S. has seen relentless suburban sprawl, white flight and concentrations of poverty in inner cities” would have been hard to argue with 20 years ago. In Brooklyn 20 years ago, there were major office buildings downtown vacant and boarded-up, it looked like Detroit. But where the burnt-out porn theater remnants were on Court St. there is now a giant Barnes and Noble and multiplex, and down where the abandoned piers were a couple blocks from there, they are putting up new apartments advertised as “starting in the $2 millions.” You could say something similar for most other major cities. The problem now is rising prices and gentrification, not “white flight.” Even the phrase is antique.

    Raising saving, as you say, is a nonsensical thing to call for in the kind of models Noah works with. Plus, maybe he hasn’t noticed, there’s this whole secular stagnation thing? In a world where people are worrying about a global savings glut, what problem is this supposed to be solving?

    Sunstein is obviously a 90s guy.

    My theory is that this piece is based on Noah finding a box full of 20 year old copies of Dissent and the New York Review of Books in his parents’ basement.

  2. That’s a gem of a comment, Josh. And welcome back to virtuality, Max. My avatar embraces yours.

    The funny thing about Noah’s post is that it’s sort of set up backward. It’s true that a large part, maybe most, of the agenda of the center-left in the US is catching up with Europe in things like social insurance, working time, a bigger voice for labor, better cities, etc. And it would be wonderful if we could do that.

    It’s legitimate to ask, then what? At the moment that’s more of a European question than a US one, but we should still ponder it. Noah at this juncture looks backward rather than forward, toward little nudges and tweaks rather than new frontiers. Clinton indeed.

    A good way to frame this question is, suppose you were living in a European country close to social democratic ideal, like Norway. Where would you want to go from there? Or is it just a matter of everyone learning Norwegian and sitting tight?

  3. JM, Obviously there is urban development in some places and collapse in some others, like Detroit.

    There is no evidence of NS ever cracking an issue of Dissent.

    PD, you are describing a problem we would like to have. I’ve got an idea for a post on this, later today.

  4. Max-

    You’re right, of course. But “white flight” does not seem to capture the problems cities are facing today, does it? According to Wikipedia (I know, I know) of the largest 50 US cities, Detroit and Cleveland are the only two that are shrinking.

  5. Semi hem off thread as usual:

    I really think we might start our reformation
    By soundly critiquing

    The legacy of rudolph Meidner

    I suspect we can all agree something terrible happened between 1968 and1980

    Well here was the white hat chap
    that may have lost biggest
    During that evil epoch

  6. If Nordic Europe is our future

    A very sanguine proposition to say the least

    Are we to pretend
    the last twenty five years over there
    Haven’t happened ?

  7. Saving is a cottage industry for secular calvinists

    A credit driven economy has no need of household savings

    Taxes can both regulate household spending
    And provide the optimal rate of social accumulation

    To save today in
    Is to provide low cost funds for
    Dynamic usury and security chips for gamblers
    To pyramid

  8. On the “what is to be done” question, is it really so hard? Whether we’re in the US or Sweden, we do whatever we can to replace private property claims with collective provision, and to replace hierarchies with democratic self-government. The ACA was a step in that direction. So was Occupy.

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