David Coates


(Chapter outline)


Mighty Finance

The Lightness of Labor

Deindustrialization and the Weakness of Industrial Capital


No Going Back

External Constraints

Internal Reform











There are other things that we need to be told over and over again too. We need to be reminded that the Republican faith in unregulated markets and limited government is what got us into our present deep economic difficulties, and so cannot be expected to be the best way out of them. When Rand Paul, in his 2010 mid-term acceptance speech, can baldly assert that “governments do not create jobs”, he and we need to be reminded that governments can indeed create jobs, do indeed create jobs, do create jobs of value (from teachers to soldiers), and do often create jobs faster than the private sector – particularly when confidence in consumer demand is low and private businesses understandably reluctant to hire. And when Rand Paul, and many other Republicans, argue for federal budget cuts using the family budget as an analogy – when they say that families have to balance their budgets so the federal government should balance its budget too – a progressive President has to do two immediate things. He has not to use the same analogy himself, because family budgets and federal budgets play different economic roles; and he has instead to argue the Keynesian case for budget deficits that can trigger economic growth and pay for themselves over the long term from the tax revenues generated by that growth. In other words, a progressive President has to go on the ideological offensive against an ideologically active conservative movement: defending the vital role of big government in periods of crisis and the essential role of civilized public policy in times of calm He must not let the Republicans get away with their regular assertion that markets work best when regulated least. That nonsense got us into this crisis, and it will not get us out.

But there is more. A Democratic president with any grain of progressivism within him would tell a powerful post-war story too. That President would challenge the mythology of the Reagan years, pointing to them not as the glory years as the Right would have them, but as the turning point from which we all now suffer. It was in the Reagan years that a social settlement based on strong U.S. manufacturing performance and rising blue-collar wages was replaced by a new settlement based on growing income inequality, the outsourcing of American jobs and the spread of a debt-based prosperity. It was in the Reagan years that the weakening of American trade unionism began the long decades of stagnant wage rates. A progressive president would not excuse the Clinton administration from responsibility for continuing that Reaganite settlement – treating the Clinton presidency as the accidental beneficiary of an influx of predominantly Japanese investment funds that briefly kept U.S. firms buoyant and allowed wages slightly to rise for the first time in nearly two decades. A progressive President would draw the proper conclusion from the fragility of prosperity in even the Clinton years – and its total absence now in the wake of a financial crisis overseen by a Republican administration. He would call the country to a new settlement – a genuine New Deal – one based on greater equality in rewards, the honoring of work and family, a return to buying only what we can pay for, and the building of a stronger safety net for the weakest and most vulnerable among us.

David Coates holds the Worrell Chair in Anglo-American Studies at Wake Forest University. He is the author of Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments, New York: Continuum Books, 2010.

He writes here in a personal capacity.

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