The Current Political-Economic Conjuncture and the Twitter Policy Institute

Even as Trump and his gang are being ushered off center stage, the inanity of Twitter raves on. Left Twitter. Rose Twitter. Jacobin Twitter. Why do so many feel compelled to opine so often on subjects about which they know so little? It is a mystery. All are welcome to play on my lawn. Just please try not to defecate on it quite so much, o.k.?

I am no more reluctant to criticize the incoming regime than anyone else. I have a long paper trail. I slammed Biden himself in the recent past. I’ve been hammering Democratic leadership for decades, including when I might have hoped to get jobs with them. Now all that is over. I am retired and solvent, my ambitions tempered. I can say any damn thing I want. I don’t need a full-time job that requires a 90-minute train ride twice a day, though out of curiosity I would accept the directorship of the CIA.

I recently wrote that criticism of Biden and company should be held in abeyance until they actually propose to do bad stuff. Of course, trial balloons for bad stuff deserve to be shot down. So too with appointments of objectionable people. But blanket condemnations, along with fantasies of getting anything done solely by extra-parliamentary agitation, are idiotic. Holding our breaths till we turn blue will not inaugurate Medicare For All. Agitating for MFA will empower friendly parties in the Administration and Congress to get Medicare for more.

The ideological confusion also pervades commentary on prospective appointments. Popular babble from the Twitter Policy Institute is similarly ill-informed. (I am not referring here to my friend, Matt B.)

Take Neera Tanden. (Please!) Her nomination to run the Office of Management and Budget was greeted with howls of disapproval. Why? Because she was nasty on Twitter, maybe got someone fired. Now, I’ve never met her, never worked for her, but really? She has been left of center her entire career. It’s easy to imagine much worse at the head of OMB. (Hello, Bruce Reed!)

It gets worse. Then we have Heather Boushey, who is well to the left of center. Unlike Tanden, she has a scholarly paper trail to prove it. We have testimony from people that she is a shitty boss. I’ve known her for over twenty years, though she’s been ignoring me for the last ten. So I don’t owe her anything. I have no first-hand information one way or another about her managerial practices.

In the high-pressure environment of political Washington, D.C., people run over other people. The closer to power, the denser the pit is with snakes. I repeat that I am totally agnostic about the truth of any accusations flying around. I neither support any charges nor reject any.


The indubitable fact remains: anyone complaining about either of these appointments has a dubious grounding in commitment to democratic socialism or to social-democracy. Some things are more important than others. Among the most important is the political-economic framework guiding the incoming Administration. So many other things depend on that, and that depends on who gets the relevant jobs.

You know what matters? The appointment to director of the National Economic Council, who could end up being an unhelpful filter for good analyses and proposals that come from elsewhere in the Administration. It may be a fellow named Brian Deese, from Blackrock, Inc., one of the leading investment firms in the country. The possibility of his appointment has provoked hardly any reaction. I’m reminded of the pointless defenestration of Senator Al Franken. Can anyone not from Minnesota name his replacement or anything she has done?

You might argue, all this is easy for you to say. Nobody is asking you to take one for the team. But the truth is, you couldn’t know whether or not I’ve already taken one for the team. In any event, my own situation, present or past, is irrelevant to the truth of what I’m saying.

With respect to what matters the most, the incoming Council of Economic Advisers has to be very encouraging for the Left. Related is a new paper by Jason Furman and Larry Summers, both for what it says and for who is saying it. Furman was Obama’s chief economist, and Summers is the Bigfoot of Democratic Party economic policy.

The paper reflects a significant, positive evolution for Summers. I would say the same for Furman, except he hasn’t had as long a career and didn’t establish as negative a track record as Summers. The paper is tantamount to a papal encyclical from the Grand Poobahs of Democratic Party economic policy, and it signals a major change in direction. Furman and Summers radically raise the bar to austerity policies. They contemplate a huge expansion in public spending, financed by higher deficits. (I can’t resist adding that there are points in the paper that those of my ilk have been making for decades.) It gives the incoming CEA, as well as progressive advocates, a lot to work with.

I would still quibble on one point: their analysis is incomplete in the sense that it does not preclude a resort to so-called entitlement reform as a remedy for growth of the public debt. It’s hard to find any deficit hawks on the Democratic side these days, both because of the recession and after witnessing the perfidy of Republicans. The latter only worry about deficits when a Democrat is in the White House. But rejection of deficit reduction in the short- or medium-term does not preclude a commitment to it in the longer term.

Changes in Social Security or Medicare typically steer clear of effects on current or imminent beneficiaries. There is nothing complicated about scheduling benefit cuts that take hold ten years out, all the while campaigning for deficit spending in the present.

In other words, no matter what assurances we get about the irrelevance of deficit reduction under current circumstances, there is nothing in such assurances that precludes “entitlement reform” in the longer term. To make it more palatable, it will be described as “saving Social Security,” and it could be designed to be triggered by appropriate conditions in the slightly distant future. Once such a framework is in place, it is much easier for those who subsequently come into political power to tighten the screws.

Bottom line, the grand questions of political economy should not hinge on the course of Twitter beefs or disgruntled employees, however justified their grievances might be. Should the civil rights movement have been sidetracked because MLK was fooling around? I think not.

This should not be a hard call. Criticism of the Biden Administration will be effective to the extent it focuses on the right fights, not by maintaining an incessant, indiscriminate uproar.

Comments are closed.