Bruce Bartlett

The "Reality-Based Community" Exacts Its Revenge

Bruce Bartlett's mini-memoir over at The American Conservative is well worth your time. He covers his time working in movement conservative circles (with the obligatory stints at National Review, the Heritage Foundation, and the Wall Street Journal) as well as his gradual break with the Republican Party. A particularly intriguing segment of the story deals with how he came to change his opinion on Keynesian economics.

After careful research along these lines, I came to the annoying conclusion that Keynes had been 100 percent right in the 1930s. Previously, I had thought the opposite. But facts were facts and there was no denying my conclusion. It didn’t affect the argument in my book, which was only about the rise and fall of ideas. The fact that Keynesian ideas were correct as well as popular simply made my thesis stronger.

I finished the book just as the economy was collapsing in the fall of 2008. This created another intellectual crisis for me. Having just finished a careful study of the 1930s, it was immediately obvious to me that the economy was suffering from the very same problem, a lack of aggregate demand. We needed Keynesian policies again, which completely ruined my nice rise-and-fall thesis. Keynesian ideas had arisen from the intellectual grave.

The book needed to be rethought and rewritten from scratch in light of new developments. Unfortunately, my publisher insisted on publishing it on schedule. I tried to repair the damage as best I could, but in the end the book was a mishmash of competing ideas with no clear narrative. It sold poorly.

On the plus side, I think I had a very clear understanding of the economic crisis from day one. I even wrote another op-ed for the New York Times in December 2008 advocating a Keynesian cure that holds up very well in light of history. Annoyingly, however, I found myself joined at the hip to Paul Krugman, whose analysis was identical to my own. I had previously viewed Krugman as an intellectual enemy and attacked him rather colorfully in an old column that he still remembers.

For the record, no one has been more correct in his analysis and prescriptions for the economy’s problems than Paul Krugman. The blind hatred for him on the right simply pushed me further away from my old allies and comrades.

For the record, I've come to the same painfully embarrassing conclusion about Krugman. It has not been a fun thing to admit.

As a final note, Bartlett's latest book, The Benefit and The Burden, should be mandated reading for young conservatives seeking to understand our movement and how the government should seek to shape tax policy. (Noah Kristua-Green reviewed it for David's Bookclub back in February.) As we deliberate about changes the GOP needs to make to remain electorally relevant, tax reform must be on the table in a way that is simultaneously fiscally responsible, socially equitable, and economically pragmatic. Bartlett's proposals are a step in that direction.