As baby boomers, we grew up with products "Made in the USA" and scoffed at trinkets from Japan. Our parents enjoyed life-long employment, health care, affordable education, Social Security and pensions that made the golden years more golden. This is what author Paul Krugman describes in his new book "Conscience of a Liberal." He calls this the "Great Compression" where the politics of equality was borne from the New Deal in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt defied the laws of Adam Smith and his invisible hand, and redistributed the wealth of a nation, effectively killing the "Gilded Age" where society was comprised of the very wealthy and the poor.
FDR's New Deal saw the minimum wage becoming half of the average wage earner, the rise of unions, and the mansions of the nation's wealthiest becoming museum attractions. This was the creation of the middle class that was vehemently opposed by Republicans who believed that government intervention would turn the country communist and ruin the economy. It didn't.
By the time Dwight Eisenhower, Republican, became president most in the party had made their peace with the New Deal and only a fringe of an extremist element, known as movement conservatives, still opposed it.
These conservatives made a brief, unsuccessful surge with the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964. They got a break when Democrats embraced civil rights, which broke the Solid South away from them. Racism and the wrath of the angry white male were exploited, and the message of Ronald Reagan could not be missed when he launched his campaign in Philadelphia, MS. Sound familiar?
Through skillful marketing of ideas, conservatives were able to exploit racism and frame themselves as strong on defense, tough on crime, and opponents of big government and taxes, even though they lacked the record to support any of these assertions. Once again, we returned to a Gilded Age with a rising disparity between the have's and the have nots, and a declining middle class. Middle class income is less than it was under President Lyndon Johnson, and bankruptcies and mortgage foreclosures have increased because of crushing medical debt and jobs being shipped overseas.
And this is where Paul Krugman claims that conservatism is running on its last pint of gas. With record low unemployment and a booming economy, Americans are still uncertain about the their future and their prospects. They have had no tax relief, no job security, income failing to keep pace with cost of living increases, rising health care insurance costs, no end to an unpopular war, rising education costs, and companies repudiating their pension promises. With forty-five million Americans having no health insurance and sixteen million being under-insured, conservatives are no longer able to convince them that they are better off with tax relief going to the richest companies, while they are trying to dismantle Medicare and Social Security, in other words, the New Deal.
In spite of the current widening gap, Krugman sees an optimistic future, a demise of movement conservatism and a return to the politics of equality through universal health care. He points out that this is not socialized medicine but socialized insurance. The government program, Medicare operates efficiently with smaller administrative costs than major insurance companies, which have considerably higher operating expenses. The author's second point is that while racism still exists, it is not as deep as it was twenty years ago, and can no longer be exploited by movement conservatives. Equally important, he believes that Americans will eventually see that conservatism is of no advantage to them, only to the corporations and the wealthy.
Writing in a style and vocabulary that will not require the reader to carry a dictionary, this award-winning columnist and economist provides an interesting background of American populism, political history of America in the 20th century, and the remedy for the current politics of inequality.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. It is worth every penny.