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An American Folly: The Professional Centrist

Thursday, 07 June 2012 10:32 By Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co. | Op-Ed
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Centrist(Image: CartoonArts International / The New York Times Syndicate)Things fall apart. And the center not only did not hold, it couldn’t seem to get any attention whatsoever. Americans Elect, a lavishly funded “centrist” group that was supposed to provide an alternative to traditional political parties, has been a ridiculous flop.

Basically, about seven people were actually excited about the venture — all of them political pundits. Actual voters couldn’t care less.

What went wrong? Well, there actually is a large constituency in the United States for a political leader who is willing to take responsible positions — to call for more investment in the nation’s education and infrastructure, to propose bringing down the long-run deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. And there is in fact a political leader ready and willing (maybe too willing) to play that role; his name is Barack Obama.

So why Americans Elect? Because there exists in America a small class of professional centrists whose stock in trade is denouncing the extremists in both parties and calling for a middle ground. And this class cannot, as a professional matter, admit that there already is a centrist party in America, the Democrats — that the extremism they decry is all coming from one side of the political fence. Because if they admitted that, they’d just be moderate Democrats, with no holier-than-thou pedestal to stand on.

Americans Elect was created to appeal to this class of professional centrists, which meant that it was doomed to go nowhere. Because outside that class, the large number of people who believe in all the good stuff the centrists claim to favor are, you know, going to vote for Mr. Obama. The large number of people who don't believe in any of that are going to vote for Mitt Romney. All Americans Elect could ever have been was a distraction; and it turns out not to have managed even that.

None So Blind

As those who will not see.

Eddie Lazear, the former chief economic adviser to President George W. Bush, had an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal on May 20 about the fiscal cliff. Among other things, he pooh-poohs any concerns that sudden cuts in spending might hurt the economy in the United States.

He weasels a bit, but basically conveys the impression that there's no evidence for Keynesian effects.

What this signifies to me is the politicization and corruption overtaking the economics profession. I'll give Eddie the benefit of the doubt; he is probably just going by what his friends say.

But it's truly awesome: in the midst of a crisis that has both provided overwhelming evidence for Keynesian views of fiscal policy and inspired a great deal of empirical work that also confirms the case for a Keynesian view, the profession's right wing is just covering its ears and yelling "La, la, la, I can't hear you."

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Paul Krugman joined The New York Times in 1999 as a columnist on the Op-Ed page and continues as a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University. He was awarded the Nobel in economic science in 2008. Mr Krugman is the author or editor of 20 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes, including "The Return of Depression Economics" (2008) and "The Conscience of a Liberal" (2007).
Copyright 2014 The New York Times.

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