Beyond Keynes

In the American Prospect/Democratic Strategist forum on entitlements I wrote about yesterday, Andrew Levison offers a provocative essay today arguing that progressives are fighting a losing battle if they continue to promote an overall message that depends on public understanding of and support for a Keynesian view of government’s role in the economy.

Here’s a sample:

Faced with the public’s failure to view or understand issues from a consistently Keynesian framework, progressive political strategists and commentators have generally responded in one of two ways. One group simply “cherry-picks” the polling data to find a subset of results that support their perspective and justifies this selective approach by arguing that most people must “really” believe a progressive, basically Keynesian perspective and are merely reciting superficial conservative clichés when they reply in ways that seem to support the alternative view. A second group of commentators accepts the deeply contradictory range of opinion data and draws from it the conclusion that most Americans simply do not understand enough about economics to have any real, meaningful opinions. In their view, the views most Americans do express are, in effect, merely superficial “wish lists” of things that sound nice or are parroted versions of dimly grasped clichés that provide no guidance for what they actually will support or vote for on Election Day.

Levison goes on to suggest a simple three-pronged message contrasting progressive with conservative priorities on economic issues, including entitlements, based on some Democracy Corps polling and focus-group work. But his more important lesson is the importance of recognizing that for the time being the old elite consensus favoring Keynesian assumptions about government spending and full employment has faded away, and with it the progressive high ground on many economic issues.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.