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07.23.10

A Harvard Economist on Why He Supports The Daily Beast Manifesto

Richard Parker explains why he joined more than 100 economists and historians in signing The Daily Beast manifesto calling for tax cuts and stimulus spending to reboot America, even as the proposal has triggered a fierce debate among his colleagues.

Richard Parker explains why he joined more than 100 economists and historians in signing The Daily Beast manifesto calling for tax cuts and stimulus spending to reboot America, even as the proposal has triggered a fierce debate among his colleagues. Plus, read the manifesto here and read the complete list of manifesto backers.

Since I asked Jamie Galbraith, Joe Stiglitz, and Bob Reich to sign this statement—and Jamie declined, but Joe and Bob didn’t—let me say a word about my motivation and judgment in asking them to sign, and in signing it myself, as a way of answering some of the points raised here. Perhaps a very useful discussion might grow from the original statement and this dissent.

We all understand that judgments about economic policy get made in the world of politics and power. So when Harry Evans sent me his statement 10 days ago, I thought it worthwhile, at this moment and for this moment, to join up and lean into the wrong-headed turn we can all see going on, away from global stimulus to budget cuts and keening about the dangers of debt and deficits.

Having watched, and participated in, the progress of “financial reform” and “health-care reform” these past two years, and reflecting on the bills that Congress produced in their names, I did not interpret these as signs of unconditional victory for Keynesian or Rooseveltian or even mildly progressive liberalism of the kind that once characterized the social agenda of the Democratic Party (and, I should add, an honorable minority once upon a time of the Republican Party).

So I signed the petition.

I found the concession about “mid- and long-term deficits” one I didn’t want to make on principle, but I also favor single-payer in health care and Glass-Steagall in financial reform in principle, spoke strongly for my principles early on in the respective debates, and then, when the options narrowed, fought for as much as I thought could be gained for my principles among those options.

I don’t fundamentally disagree with Jamie’s analysis, though I do have significant reservations and questions, for other times. But I think the analysis can’t be “heard” in July 2010, in the political environment that reformed Wall Street and health care and now is focused on the midterms.

I have great respect, indeed affection, for the positions outlined by Jamie, Paul Davidson, and Robert Skidelsky, as I do for their work more broadly.

I have made, and remade, several of the points they sketch for years, especially about Social Security and Medicare, dating back to the earliest days of the Concord Coalition. I’ve made them in my writing and TV and radio appearances, in classroom teaching and faculty seminars and congressional briefings; I will continue to do so, albeit trying to judge which focus and which arguments might work best in the political moments that present themselves.

Read the full manifestoIn making such judgments, we are bound to disagree at times. I view myself, as I think do several others who signed with me, as having a tactical, not a strategic, let alone fundamental analytic, disagreement here with our good friends.

My thanks to Paul, Jamie, and Robert for raising their objections.

Click here to read the original manifesto.

An Oxford-educated economist, Richard Parker teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He is the biographer of John Kenneth Galbraith, co-founder of Mother Jones, and advises the Greek government on economic reforms. He is working on a book about Nixon’s legacy in today’s world.