Bill Black Analyzes Brad DeLong’s Stunning Concession: Neoliberals Should Pass the Baton and Let the Left Lead

Jerri-Lynn here. The times they are a’changin. In this Real News network interview, Bill Black analyzes Brad DeLong’s stunning concession that neoliberals should get out of the way and let the left lead since their coalition with Republicans did not work.

Black is the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One, an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and co-founder of Bank Whistleblowers United.

Here’s a link to the Vox interview with DeLong mentioned within.

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us.

You know, when a leading neoliberal says it’s time for them to step back and build the lines of the left, because the left among Democrats are in the ascendancy, that past neoliberal, center-right coalitions with Republicans have not worked, and they have to try something different, it stops you in your tracks. Well, that’s exactly what Brad DeLong said, who is a UCal Berkeley economics professor, and was once the deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury for economic policy under Clinton, and calls himself a Rubin Democrat; a dyed-in-the-wool Wall Street Democrat. During that interview with Vox, he also said: “The baton rightly passes to our colleagues on our left … We are still here, but it’s not our time to lead.”.

Our guest today, Real News contributor Bill Black, who is Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri Kansas City; former financial regulator; and author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One brought this to our attention. So welcome back, Bill, always good to talk with you.

BILL BLACK: Thank you.

BILL BLACK: Thank you.

MARC STEINER: So this is–I tell you, I was really–when you sent this yesterday, and I read it yesterday evening, I was–I did have to stop in my tracks. I mean, the thesis of this idea, that the neoliberal way of kind of resolving the crisis inside of our economy, of trying to control capitalism and its worst tendencies is not working because it was a coalition of Republicans–to have him say that, say you have to move to your left, was pretty stunning.

BILL BLACK: Oh, yeah. And if you know him better, it’s even more stunning. Brad DeLong is a friend. He is one of the most prominent economists in the world, and he is one of the most read economists the world because of his famous blog, and his willingness to have a lively mind. And a lively tongue, as well, which is quite evident in this.

And he actually doesn’t say it’s time for us to form a coalition with the left. He says it’s time for us to step back and let the left lead. That’s what the baton reference is.

MARC STEINER: But what does that mean? What do you think that means, really?

BILL BLACK: Well, he actually says what it means. He says we are discredited. Our policies have failed. And they’ve failed because we’ve been conned by the Republicans. Our whole strategy was to form a consensus with some reasonable, moderately conservative Republicans. And there is no such thing. And as a result we kept on pushing farther and farther and farther to the right with our policies, so that we’re actually to the right of the Republican Party’s own representatives in Congress. And again, we’ve just basically been played by these folks. We have to stop doing that. The only legitimate entity in town is the left, the progressives. The progressives, he says, are wonderful people, whereas basically, he says, there isn’t a single elected Republican that has any integrity at the federal level. And we have to start anew.

He also says that the progressive view of the world poved to be much more true than the neoliberal. He calls himself the neoliberal shill. And in his column, he says the left’s view of the world is much more accurate than our view of the world proved to be.

MARC STEINER: So is he saying that his whole thinking about politics and the economy have changed? Or is he saying that we don’t have the answers, and we should give them a shot at the answers, and back them up with our thinking? What do you think he’s saying?

BILL BLACK: So, he’s saying two things. One, he says–and he says this flat-out–politically, we failed. We were a disaster. Everything we did was a disaster politically. Economically, he says, again, the left’s view of the world is a lot more accurate than ours was. So a number of our policies, presumably, really need to be changed, even just in terms of the economics.

Let me give you the key point. He says our view, the neoliberal, was the markets would regulate themselves. Our view, which we–you know, I’ve been arguing with him for years–is no; markets, when there’s a Gresham’s dynamic–in other words, the kind of frauds that I write and warn people about–market forces become perverse. Cheaters gain a competitive advantage, and bad ethics drives good ethics out of really any form of competition, whether that’s markets, professions, or sports. The steroids era, for example, in baseball, where you had to cheat to be able to do. Or the Tour de France, where all the winners for 20 years were cheats, doing blood doping and other drugs.

MARC STEINER: So I mean, there’s one quote that kind of sums up for me. When he wrote: “Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s healthcare policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy. And did George H.W. Bush, did Mitt Romney, did John McCain say a single good word about anything Barack Obama ever did over the course of eight solid years? No f’n way he did not,” is what he said. Cleaned it up just a little bit. But that kind of sums up, in many ways, exactly what he was saying.

BILL BLACK: Brad DeLong is brilliant. And he writes really well. And he has, in a super short form, captured it exactly. All of Obama’s key policies were the product of very conservative views that are, on many economic fronts, literally to the right of these crazies that are the Republicans who constitute the House and the Senate. And even when they’re not to the right of the crazies, they’re way, way right, and they’re inferior. Right? The progressive policies are fundamentally superior. Market regulation is a terrible failure. It is criminogenic.

I’ll give you one example. He ends by saying wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if we could use cap and trade to create an incentive for, you know, 20-plus million people to do the right thing? Because again, the neoliberal view is if they do the right thing they will get a profit. See? It’ll all be wonderful. They’ll all do the right thing. Except that it’s vastly easier on something like cap and trade to do the wrong thing. To lie, to commit fraud about whether you’re actually reducing the pollution, and collect the fees. And so he doesn’t realize, still, I think, that we are incentivizing not 20 million people to do the right thing, but literally 2 billion people to do the wrong thing. And you know, often that will be the result, the wrong thing.

MARC STEINER: So, two final questions here. So in this–what’s moving ahead here. Let me just posit this. So how did Democrats and the left respond to this? We’re about to see an MSNBC clip from the CPAC meeting that took place in D.C. last weekend. And this is clearly going to be part of their major attack in the coming elections. Think about this vis a vis the long road. Let’s watch this.

TED CRUZ: Look, I think there’s a technical description of what’s going on, which is that Democrats have gone bat crap crazy.

MIKE PENCE: That system is socialism.

SEBASTIAN GORKA: That is why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has introduced the Green New Deal. It’s a watermelon. Green on the outside. Deep, deep red communist on the inside. They want to take your pickup truck. They want to rebuild your home. They want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved.

MARC STEINER: So clearly this is going to be part of this strategy coming forth. I’m thinking about the long road and how this fits in, because this clearly is going to be the opposition, what they’re going to start doing.

BILL BLACK: So literally, the watermelon guy, Gorka, is literally a Croatian fascist.

MARC STEINER: No question. No question.

BILL BLACK: I mean the Ustase, the pro-Hitler Croatian fascists. So progressives should take enormous comfort from Brad DeLong. He is one of the most influential economists. He wasn’t just a theorist. He actually was there designing and implementing these policies at the most senior levels of the Clinton administration. And he says they are failures. They’re political failures and they’re often economic failures. And he says the left is composed–the progressive wing of the Democratic Party–of among the best people in the world. Their policies are typically wonderful. Excellent for the world. We need to get behind them. And the idea that we should continue to listen to the New Democrats, the Wall Street Democrats, and take guidance from them, is preposterous; that they must exit the stage and the baton must pass to the progressives to take the leadership role. And that they’re doing an excellent job of that, and should continue and expand that leadership.

MARC STEINER: So, one final question for you, BIll Black. So, you’ve been in this world a long time. You know all these people.

BILL BLACK: I am old. [Laughter]

MARC STEINER: You–do you think that the Wall Street Democrats, folks who are in the investment world, along with the Chuck Schumers of the world, are going to acquiesce? Not–acquiesce is the wrong word, but are actually going to take seriously what DeLong said? And this is actually take place politically? Possibly? I mean, do you think that’s real?

BILL BLACK: No, but that’s because Brad DeLong has vastly more integrity than they do. They know, however, that they’ve been conned, played, and they’re absolute fools in the game. Remember the saying in any poker game, if you don’t know within a minute of sitting in it who the fool in the game is, it’s you.

MARC STEINER: That’s exactly right. [Laughter]

BILL BLACK: These guys know they’ve been the fool for 30 years, and they have tossed our lives down the drain. Brad is willing to say it. So they know how discredited they are. And thanks to Brad DeLong for having the intellectual honesty to say it in these blunt and colorful terms. But I can tell you this has been in the making for at least eight years, where Brad DeLong, based on new facts, has been shedding his ideology, or at least changing it dramatically. And we should all use that as a lesson, as well. Just listen to the facts. Don’t go with these labels like socialism or not socialism. Is it a desirable program? And here’s the good news: Almost every poll of the public shows that the key agenda items of the progressives have strong, strong support, even among Republicans.

MARC STEINER: Well, Bill Black, thank you for bringing this to our attention yesterday, before the major media caught this, and we had a chance to talk about it with you. I appreciate you sending it up. Always appreciate talking with you. Thank you so much for all your work and for being with us today.

BILL BLACK: Thank you, and thank Brad.

MARC STEINER: Thank you, Brad. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you for watching. Take care.

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  1. none

    Does DeLong have anything to say about MMT? Or does left wing economics for him mean old school Keynesianism or what? Thanks.

  2. pretzelattack

    this is really encouraging. i await developments with more hope than i had yesterday.

    1. timbers

      Me too. Very nice to hear talk like this. I am feeling much more upbeat after watching this.

      There are so very many major movements around the world springing up in response to neo liberal policy failures. How long can the neo liberals remain in their fake matrix and not get it?

      And all Nancy Pelosi does is act like a fake toughie against Trump on peripheral issues that suck all the oxygen from the room, so as to keep us distracted. Distracted from her not supporting something 80% of the people can benefit from like Medicare for all…ending Bush’s and Obama’s forever wars.

    2. Kevin Hall

      I would really, REALLY like to feel that way too…….

      It’s just waaay to much of a very hard sell for me to believe that any of this will gain traction. Unfortunately, all I see is more doubling down and these fools digging their trenches deeper.

      They won’t change it themselves. I say we need to let them dig deep enough to constitute a confined space entry, burn it with fire once exit is impossible, and then bury them.

      We need to stop waiting to rise up and overthrow, they will never do the right thing.

    3. cnchal

      Don’t get your hopes up. I lost all respect for him when he characterized factory labor as rentiers during the Carrier air conditioning action of closing factories in Indianapolis and moving them to Mexico.

      Those sweaty men and women working there were being paid above “market rates” and were undeserving of their $18 per hour wages when a Mexican in Mexico would do it for $3 per hour.

    4. pretzelattack

      ok after reading the comments i’m discouraged again. delong isn’t a signal of a sea change of heart among neoliberals. but it’s more friction for the neoliberals to cope with, and it is useful politically. he did admit that the policies he had espoused were wrong, and that the neoliberal view of the world was inaccurate. this isn’t going to be easy for the krugmans to ignore.

      delong personally could be another david brock; time will tell, and how he responds to the wave of criticism he will face from former colleagues.

      1. readerOfTeaLeaves

        The past month or six weeks on Twitter (yes, I admit it….) has seemed to exhibit a profound shift toward MMT. Stephanie Kelton – now being published in Bloomberg among other places – does not give an iota when someone starts tossing rubbish and false information about MMT into a thread. Something is shifting, and a new conversation is gaining altitude.

        As appalling as Trump and McConnell can be, they are inadvertently accelerating the move toward new ideas, new faces, new change. Relish the irony ;-)

  3. Cripes

    DeLong gives a qualified support to MMT, saying that it’s not foolproof but better than the alternatives. As MMT-ers remind us, in political economy the policies are a different matter.

    Reminds me of a bit of physics theories, that an old one is retired when a newer theory explains reality better. Except the old theorys were designed to conceal, not explain, reality.

    You can read it here

    1. Susan the Other

      Thanks for this link. It was such a short, clear analysis. In econospeak it was like a memo to a colleague. So Brad DeLong is on our list of good guys. How nice. The questions I am left with are about the usefulness of interest rates at all, and I vaguely remember Randy Wray saying stg. like ‘interest rates should be kept very low to insure against inflation’ which makes sense. Interest rates themselves could be pushing bubbles. And then what exactly are we talking about with the word “inflation”? I like (DeLong’s or MMT’s?) theory about inflated assets (govt bonds here) – that prices stay within a balance because there are fewer greater fools than we imagine. Maybe. But it might be nice to actually come up with a better remedy if and when the SHTF. A fiscal means of adjusting the balance without harming ordinary people. (MMT does this best.) The only method I know about is devaluing a currency and keeping on as is. Nobody loses any value that way because more dollars balance out the inflated values. But neoliberals are definitely batshit about currency devaluations. As if money had some intrinsic value. Maybe it’s just a trade thing – but if so, you’d think it could be separated out from the rest of the uses of money. Maybe firewalls. So maybe I’ll read some more Brad. Thanks.

    2. paulmeli

      …saying that it’s not foolproof…

      Is there anything under the Sun that is foolproof?

      His three caveats are pretty weak tea. In (1) he ignores the lesson of Japan, the Widowmaker™ trade that has ruined the credibility of so many investor/commentators. The other two are vague hypotheticals, straw man arguments.

      DeLong is a monetarist that at the same time believes the economy is (was) best managed through the financial system and that the biggest danger to the system is financial instability. No wonder he’s conflicted.

      I do give credit to DeLong for introducing me to MMT (via a link to Bill Mitchell’s blog) 10-12 years ago. It’s good to see he’s come around.

    3. Oregoncharles

      So NC will have to stop mocking Brad DeLong. Bummer. :-)

      Seriously: while Brad may have changed his views, that will have no effect on the politicians and bureaucrats. They choose their economists for their own purposes, not the other way around. Actually, I question the claim that the pols “know” the policies are a failure, since their salaries and, ummm, speech fees depend on NOT knowing that.

      The policies will have to be changed the old-fashioned way, by throwing out the old policy makers. We shall see if the Dem Party as an institution changes – so far, the “left” look more like ankle-biters. The funding still depends on being neo-liberal.

  4. WheresOurTeddy

    reality has a well-known progressive bias. Brad DeLong is one of the few intellectually honest enough to not be one of Upton Sinclair’s paycheck-collecting willful-know-nothings

  5. The Rev Kev

    Might take a bit of issue with some of the terminology here but could be wrong. From where I sit, I would say that what Brad DeLong calls the Left may in fact be an off-shoot of the Left which I call the Progressives. The Left these days is what people a generation or two ago would have called Republicans. Maybe even hard-right Republicans. Their behaviour from what I see the past few years has very neoliberal if not neocon thinking. The new Progressives that we see certainly are a bit of fresh thinking – especially with MMT – but I am seeing older roots from old style Leftist policies. Certainly with their oblique reference to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. (It’s FDR – shhhh! Keep it quiet).

    1. JEHR

      Forget “left,” “right,” and “progressive” and look at the actual policies that a group brings to politics–that’s where you will find what is best for the public. Try to list T’s policies and you will see what I mean.

  6. Carla

    I’m not rejoicing about this, and having read the VOX interview, I don’t quite understand Steiner’s and Black’s enthusiasm. DeLong doesn’t want to pass the baton at all — he wants to crapify valid and essential policies: expanded, improved Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, MMT with a Job Guarantee, and a foreign policy not based on forever-wars. And that’s exactly what the neoliberals intend to do: crapification on a grand scale.

    “Market-friendly neoliberals, rather than pushing their own ideology, should work to improve ideas on the left. This, [DeLong] believes, is the most effective and sustainable basis for Democratic politics and policy for the foreseeable future.”

    1. Carla

      Hey, DeLong, listen up: expanded, improved Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, a federal Job Guarantee, and a foreign policy (and defense budget) ending forever-wars are NOT ideas that need improving. They ARE the improvements. Neoliberalism is dead, and we intend to bury it.

    2. notabanker

      I agree with you here. For me the kicker is this:
      No. It means argue with them, to the extent that their policies are going to be wrong and destructive, but also accept that there is no political path to a coalition built from the Rubin-center out. Instead, we accommodate ourselves to those on our left. To the extent that they will not respond to our concerns, what they’re proposing is a helluva better than the poke-in-the-eye with a sharp stick. That’s either Trumpist proposals or the current status.

      Basically he’s saying we don’t have the numbers and building a coalition with the right hasn’t worked, so now we should build one with the left. He’s not actually saying the progressive policies are better, just that they have a better chance of getting their agenda forward with progressives than with conservatives.

      The key to all of this from my perspective is they don’t have the numbers. The American empire is in accelerating decline. Every major system is broken and corrupt. Government can’t fix the problems. Populism elected Trump, and now voters will swing the other way looking for the magic bullet. The corportists choices are deliberate sabotage of the electoral system, because good old fashioned corruption will no longer suffice, or capitulate to the left. DeLong sounds like a trial balloon to me.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Read up on his Wikipedia entry and the following bit grabbed my attention-

        “In 1990 and 1991 DeLong and Lawrence Summers co-wrote two theoretical papers that were to become critical theoretical underpinnings for the financial deregulation put in place when Summers was Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton.”

        I would be very wary on any advice that he gives out myself.

        1. Mel

          He doesn’t have to convince me, so it doesn’t matter that he won’t. But if he can convince a few shaky Democrats on the less-right side that it’s futile to try to reform the Republican Party from within …

      2. Dan

        Basically he’s saying we don’t have the numbers and building a coalition with the right hasn’t worked, so now we should build one with the left. He’s not actually saying the progressive policies are better, just that they have a better chance of getting their agenda forward with progressives than with conservatives.

        Exactly. He hasn’t changed his neoliberal stripes. He in no way admits, or feels sorry for, the incredible destruction neoliberal policies have wreaked on the masses here and abroad. He apparently still sees neoliberalism as way to “control capitalism’s worst tendencies,” when in fact neoliberalism is capitalism on steroids. In other words, he’s completely lost.

        Although he has a wide audience and any change in his rhetoric can theoretically be positive, there’s no way he should be trusted. His change of opinion is not a substantive change of heart. It’s out of absolute necessity due to the incredible pressure exerted by the grassroots. That pressure should never cease, or rest on its laurels, because the Brad DeLong’s of the world change their tune.

    3. Barry

      The thing to rejoice or be sad about is not whether DeLong abandons centrism and becomes a leftist (or if you believe he has); it’s whether the Left has a place at the table, which is what he is acknowledging.

      For years, the Centrists have ignored or hippy-punched the Left while bargaining with the Right, which has pulled the Centrists ever-further to the right.

      When a Centrist like DeLong says they should argue with the Left about lefty policies; when he says Centrists should pass the baton to the Left, he is acknowledging they have power now that must be reckoned with.

      Acquiring enough power that the Establishment must treat with them should be the goal of all people on the left. It’s far more important than winning any specific election.

      (Let’s just skip over distinctions between ‘left’, ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ in reading my comment. Those terms are entirely over-loaded and you can tell who I mean)

      1. JEHR

        Forget “left,” “right,” and “progressive” and look at the actual policies that a group brings to politics–that’s where you will find what is best for the public. Try to list T’s policies and you will see what I mean.

      2. Aloha

        In my opinion the millions of people who don’t vote in presidential elections are so frustrated and depressed that they feel like things are hopeless now. Although watching our youth protest about their future is inspiring it makes me sad because they are having to do this instead of being young and living life. It is obvious to me that the so called Dems and Reps who have been in office for the past 20-30-40 years rule the roost and are not representing the people who voted them in. I voted for Obama in 2008 and had such hope that if we all did our part we could put the US back on track, but obviously that didn’t happen. He talked the talk but didn’t walk the talk. So god only knows who we put in office who isn’t more of the same but I did see that a lady from TX is in the race although MSM hasn’t covered her yet. She has a good msg and lots of youtube coverage over the past 35 years. In other words she (66 yrs old) and has been walking the talk for over 35 yrs. Here is her web link

        1. Quantum Future

          Mea Culpa.

          Better so as you will in politics and ask forgiveness later. That is all ot as as we we enter the next phase of this long depression. Except it wont be the marginalized former middle class shaking their fists.

          Now it is and will further encompess the other oligarchs. If global nuclear war is avoided it will be a miracle indeed.

          Brad is now dog shit of history like ao many others.

          Enjoy the cigars and lakeside for a little while longer. I would consider Iceland if I were Brad.

    4. Hopelb

      I agree. Black seems to be seeing a change of heart where there is simply a temporary surrender until the coalition of “ neoliberal shills” can infiltrate and then overthrow again the “left policies that are bound to lead to destruction”. Delong asserts that once these neoliberal Econ policies work then this great coalition was going to feel less grinchy and the trickling would indeed then have trickled. He blames the politics not the economics. And he seems to be blaming the blue dogs for not drumming into the plebs’ heads that the former Presidents’ (Clinton/Obama’s) policy were great in order that the coalition grew. This was not a mea culpa. It was Delong’s realistic strategy outline for neoliberal’s continuance. And perhaps, a thinly veiled request for a policy position for himself or his son in any new lefty administration.

  7. Chris

    I’m not sure I agree with Prof. Black here either.

    Wasn’t DeLong the economist so threatened to kneecap any academic economist and policy wonk who went against Hillary in the last election? He sounds practically mafiaso in this post .

    “Mind you: The day will come when it will be time to gleefully and comprehensively trash people to be named later for Guevarista fantasies about what their policies are likely to do. The day will come when it will be time to gleefully and comprehensively trash people to be named later for advocating Comintern-scale lying to voters about what our policies are like to do. And it will be important to do so then–because overpromising leads to bad policy decisions, and overpromising is bad long-run politics as well.”

    That doesn’t seem like integrity to me. It appears to be more opportunistic. He’ll happily kick you whenever he thinks he can get away with it.

    1. TroyMcClure

      The leaked Clinton emails also revealed him to be repeatedly begging for a job for his adult son in the ersatz Clinton administration.

      He’s an operator. Nothing more.

    2. ChrisPacific

      He is actually making a legitimate point in there among the hippie-punching, which is that people tend to wear rose-colored glasses when they evaluate risks, rewards and outcomes from policy choices that align with their personal political philosophy. Neoliberals honestly do it even more than progressives, which is why they are more or less completely discredited among the younger generation these days even if it will take decades to play out in the demographics. But that doesn’t mean that progressives are immune.

  8. Alain de Benoist

    It’s hard to take DeLong seriously. Contrary to what he says, the GOP and Dems have worked closely and successfully to implement neo-liberalism in America. He cites ObamaCare? The GOP pretended to be against it in order to win support from the less bright side of the political left bell curve and to wean them away from things like the public option or single-payer. But the GOP never went past Kabuki theatre to dismantle ObamaCare when they had the power to do so.

    DeLong gives no policy specifics outside of some boring carbon tax stuff. Will he support protectionism? Single-payer? Nationalisation of Wall Street? Dismantling the US empire? Huge punitive tax increases on the wealthy? These are all things the Democratic donor class (which of course has a strong overlap with the GOP donor class) will never accept.

    And what about ideas to deal with AI, deindustrialisation, automation, guaranteed income, etc? And since neo-liberals are 100% committed to mass immigration policies that at the same time increases total GDP but reduce per capita GDP; how will they react if progressive finally wake up and realise that taking in millions of low skilled workers in a future where demand for labour is radically reducing is a total recipe for disaster? Not to mention that the welfare state they are proposing will be impossible without very strict immigration policies, not to mention the terrible impact mass immigration has on the climate.

    My feeling is DeLong and the neo-liberal donor class are already conceding the 2020 election; seeing it as a repeat of the 1984 Mondale debacle. They want the young socialist side of the Democratic Party to take the blame, so in 2024 the donor class can run a candidate pushing new and improved neo-liberalism. Trump seems to be making the same calculation as he moves away from his populist/nationalist policies to become just another in a long line of Koch brother GOP neo-liberal stooges.

    The problem is that Trump’s radical energy and ideas seduced many Americans who are now disappointed with his decidedly low-energy accomplishments. Basically the only campaign promises he kept were those he made to the Israel lobby. Now Trump is conceding the high energy and new idea ground to the Democratic left. He is switching from radical to establishment. This will open the door to say Bernie Sanders to win in 2020. But you can rest assured that the most voracious opponents that Bernie will have to get past will be Brad DeLong and the Democratic donor class when they realise this just might not be 1984 all over again.

    1. Chris

      I think DeLong isn’t speaking for many of the neoliberal establishment. See this from Mr. Emmanuel in the Atlantic.

      Echoes of “never ever” resounding off the cavernous walls of their empty heads and hearts…

      1. urblintz

        Yes. Jimmy Carter has done much good since his failed presidency and so it’s painful to remember that he was the first Democrat neo-liberal POTUS.

  9. SPEDTeacher

    Brad DeLong is brilliant, yet pushed the magical thinking of neoliberalism for 30 years. Am I missing something here? Is Bill Black patting him on the back because he’s brilliant at sophistry?

    1. nihil obstet

      Back 15 years or so ago, I read DeLong’s blog daily, trying to learn more economics than I know. I quit because it didn’t make any sense. I remember there being these broad principles, but they had to be applied in a very narrow sense. One I remember vividly was DeLong’s objections to consumer boycotts of foreign goods to end abuse of workers. These boycotts are counterproductive, he opined, and therefore you are just hurting the people you’re trying to help. You should just shop as normal. So, I presume he regarded it as all right for me to choose products that are the color I want, the size I want, the whatever I want, except for the way it’s produced I want. He did not like considerations of right and wrong among the people.

  10. PlutoniumKun

    DeLong has always been among the most thoughtful of centrists. He reminds me of people I know who are instinctively quite left wing but who’s instincts are even stronger to stay within their own particular establishment circle and to side with the winners. Back in the 1990’s I knew a few formerly left Labour supporters who became cautious Blairites (or at least Brownites). Some were opportunists of course, but some put it simply – ‘I’m tired of losing. The reality is that a pure left wing government will not get elected under current conditions, we’ve proved this over decades. The only way we can protect the poor and vulnerable is to make peace with at least some of the capitalists, and remake ourselves as the party of growth and stability. If we can achieve growth, we can funnel as much as possible as this to the poor’.

    What he seems to be saying is that the left wing analysis (economically and politically) is at least as intellectually tenable as those in the Centre and right, even if he has his doubts. He is honest enough to know that the political strategy of making common cause with ‘moderate’ Republicans hasn’t worked and won’t work. And he doesn’t see ‘the Left’ as any worse than so called moderates or centre right (which of course distinguishes him from many Dems). So he is seeing the way the wind is blowing and is tacking that way. Essentially, he is recognising that the Overton Window is shifting rapidly to the left, and as a good centrist, he’s following wherever the middle might be.

    Whatever you think of his motivations (and from my reading over the years of his writings I think he has a lot more integrity than most of his colleagues. and is also very smart), the reality is that a successful left wing movement will need establishment figures like him to be ‘on board’. Of course, they’ll do their best to grab the steering wheel – the task is to keep them on board without allowing them to do that.

  11. Watt4Bob

    The ‘first step’ is to admit you have a problem, and it’s obvious that those of us who self-identify as progressives, if not socialists, have taken that step, admitting that as democrats, we have a problem.

    The eleven-dimension game that we were sold, and that we so wishfully believed in, turned out to be a massive delusion, and ultimately an empty promise on the part of the democratic leadership.

    The ‘powder‘ was kept dry, but ultimately stolen.

    We were left defenseless, and became prey, and third-way democrats are the architects of our collective loss.

    I’m taking DeLong at his word.

    He may be the exception that proves the rule, and the Clinton wing of the democratic party may yet wrong-foot us, continue to mis-lead, and capitulate in the face of the enemy, but it strikes me as totally to be expected that reality should eventually dawn on at least a few of the folks responsible for the epic failures of democratic leadership.

    I’m a big fan of that old saw, ‘Lead, follow, or get out of the way’, democrats, fearful after losing to the likes of Reagan, decided to follow, and now find themselves as lost as the rest of us.

    It doesn’t strike me as totally impossible that a few of them might decide to ‘get out of the way‘, if only to be able to face themselves in the mirror.

  12. John Wright

    I don’t get this exchange:

    >MARC STEINER: You–do you think that the Wall Street Democrats, folks who are in the investment world, along with the Chuck Schumers of the world, are going to acquiesce? .. but are actually going to take seriously what DeLong said? ——-

    >BILL BLACK: No, but that’s because Brad DeLong has vastly more integrity than they do. They know, however, that they’ve been conned, played, and they’re absolute fools in the game.

    For as long as Black has been around, I would not expect him to argue that “Wall Street Democrats” have been “conned, played, and they’re absolute fools in the game”.

    Democrats such as Schumer, HRC, and Obama are in on the con and are not “absolute fools”.

    They have the money and power to show that they were not working for chump change.

    Black is too kind..

    1. Chris Cosmos

      I agree. I see no evidence that people Wall Street/corporate Democrats have collectively been “fooled” by Republicans. Take Obamacare for example, Obama mumbled some “facts” about health-care briefly at the beginning of the process and never mentioned anything like how much the US spends relative to other OECD countries which, with his bully-pulpit, he could have done to create a more reasonable system. All he would have to have done is cite statistics, studies, facts, facts, facts, facts about other health-care systems and the obvious corruption, inefficiency or our own. He could easily have gotten some equivalent of the “public option” or a more managed system like in continental Europe had he hammered away at FACTS.

      I don’t think Obama ever had any intention of changing health-care from a profit-making industry to a public utility like what the rest of the world enjoys. I don’t think Obama ever had any intention of being anything but a center-right (not a centrist) POTUS. I don’t buy into this “we were fooled” argument. Guys like DeLong may have been fooled but I believe, more likely (and I know the Washington milieu), he pulled the wool rather intensively over his own eyes as many brilliant people did in the Clinton/Obama administrations because it was a good career move. I don’t, btw, believe this was directly and consciously a deliberate plan–I believe it was something to do with a profound ignorance on the part of many if not most Washingtonians (and indeed most intellectuals in the USA) of the role of the unconscious in the psyche. I’ve seen it. A big player (a family friend) from the Clinton era went into Big Pharma thinking he could “do good” and he was sincere about it. But I also knew he liked money and the lifestyle that it brings–later he said that he was fooled after six or seven years of lavish salaries.

    2. TimR

      I noticed that too. Black often strikes me as having a very crude framework that is either naivete or (more likely imo) bad faith and intentional misleading. It’s just too much of a cartoon to be believed, even if (like me) you’re not an insider who personally knows the players (as Black does DeLong.)

      Repubs are “crazies” while Progressives have “wonderful, superior” policies. Ok sure… This is not much more sophisticated thinking than team Red or team Blue that you get from your Aunt Irene or somebody.

  13. John Wright

    And remember this from Brad DeLong


    ” June 07, 2003″


    “… My two cents’ worth–and I think it is the two cents’ worth of everybody who worked for the Clinton Administration health care reform effort of 1993-1994–is that Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to be kept very far away from the White House for the rest of her life. Heading up health-care reform was the only major administrative job she has ever tried to do. And she was a complete flop at it. She had neither the grasp of policy substance, the managerial skills, nor the political smarts to do the job she was then given. And she wasn’t smart enough to realize that she was in over her head and had to get out of the Health Care Czar role quickly.”

    But when it came to Hillary running for President in 2016, DeLong fell in line and endorsed her, despite HRC’s bad (“complete flop”?) decisions along the way as Senator and SOS (Honduras, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine, Wall Street Speeches and Clinton Foundation grift).

    Can DeLong be trusted?

    1. urblintz

      Can’t say whether DeLong can be trusted but I can imagine him remembering Keynes’ famous line about changing his opinion when new information becomes available. That said, I can not imagine what new information may have come about, aside from Trump’s unexpected wrecking of main stream Republicans, that had him change his mind about HRC. Her truth has been evident for decades and the more power she amassed over those years only made her truth ever more execrable.

  14. Kurtismayfield

    Re:Wall Street Democrats

    They know, however, that they’ve been conned, played, and they’re absolute fools in the game.

    Thank you Mr. Black for the laugh this morning. They know exactly what they have been doing. Whether it was deregulating so that Hedge funds and vulture capitalism can thrive, or making sure us peons cannot discharge debts, or making everything about financalization. This was all done on purpose, without care for “winning the political game”. Politics is economics, and the Wall Street Democrats have been winning.

    1. notabanker

      For sure. I’m quite concerned at the behavior of the DNC leadership and pundits. They are doubling down on blatant corporatist agendas. They are acting like they have this in the bag when objective evidence says they do not and are in trouble. Assuming they are out of touch is naive to me. I would assume the opposite, they know a whole lot more than what they are letting on.

      1. urblintz

        I think the notion that the DNC and the Democrat’s ruling class would rather lose to a like-minded Republican corporatist than win with someone who stands for genuine progressive values offering “concrete material benefits.” I held my nose and read comments at the kos straw polls (where Sanders consistently wins by a large margin) and it’s clear to me that the Clintonista’s will do everything in their power to derail Bernie.

        1. Hepativore

          Daily Kos is like a yoga session compared to all of the Obots and Clintonites on Balloon Juice. One particular article “writer” there by the name of Annie Laurie is a textbook example of said Clinton die-hards and she whips up all of her cohorts into a rabid, anti-Sanders frenzy every time she posts.

          Despite all of the complaining about Trump, I am sure that these neoliberals and identitarians would pine for the days of his administration and pal around with ex-president Trump much like they did with W. Bush. If Saint Harris or Saint Biden lose they will fail to shield the take-over of the political leadership of the unwashed masses of ignorant peasants who elected Sanders or Gabbard. Then places like Daily Kos and Balloon Juice will bemoan the fact that we did not listen to those who know what is best for us lowly knaves.

  15. Chris Cosmos

    Though I like Bill Black a lot–seems like a very hip guy and has done marvelous work for many years. However, my father got his second master’s degree in economics around 1961–he did it as a career move. Eventually when I got old enough he told me that the field was “bullshit” and based on false assumptions about reality, however, the math worked so everyone believed in the field. Economics, as I looked into it is, indeed, a largely bullshit discipline that should never have been separated from politics or other fields.

    We have a kind of fetishistic attitude towards “the economy” which is religious. “It’s the economy, stupid” is an example of this fetish. I’ve talked to economists who really believes that EVERYTHING is a commodity and all motivations, interests, all come down to some kind of market process. This is utterly false and goes directly against what we’ve learned about social science, human motivation including happiness studies.

    Economics also ignores history–people are motivated more by myth than by facts on the ground. This is why neoliberals are so confused when their models don’t work. Thomas Frank described how Kansans favored policies that directly harmed them because of religious and cultural myths–this is, in fact, true everywhere and always has been. We aren’t machines as economists seem to believe. All economists, particularly those who rely on “math” to describe our society need to be sent to re-education camps.

    1. rd

      Keynes’ “animal spirits” and the “tragedy of the commons” (Lloyd, 1833 and Hardin, 1968) both implied that economics was messier than Samuelson and Friedman would have us believe because there are actual people with different short- and long-term interests.

      The behavioral folks (Kahnemann, Tversky, Thaler etc.) have all shown that people are even messier than we would have thought. So most macro-economic stuff over the past half-century has been largely BS in justifying trickle-down economics, deregulation etc.

      There needs to be some inequality as that provides incentives via capitalism but unfettered it turns into France 1989 or the Great Depression. It is not coincidence that the major experiment in this in the late 90s and early 2000s required massive government intervention to keep the ship from sinking less than a decade after the great uregulated creative forces were unleashed.

      MMT is likely to be similar where productive uses of deficits can be beneficial, but if the money is wasted on stupid stuff like unnecessary wars, then the loss of credibility means that the fiat currency won’t be quite as fiat anymore. Britain was unbelievably economically powerfully in the late 1800s but in half a century went to being an economic afterthought hamstrung by deficits after two major wars and a depression.

      So it is good that people like Brad DeLong are coming to understand that the pretty economic theories have some truths but are utter BS (and dangerous) when extrapolated without accounting for how people and societies actually behave.

      1. Chris Cosmos

        I never understood the incentive to make more money–that only works if money = true value and that is the implication of living in a capitalist society (not economy)–everything then becomes a commodity and alienation results and all the depression, fear, anxiety that I see around me. Whereas human happiness actually comes from helping others and finding meaning in life not money or dominating others. That’s what social science seems to be telling us.

  16. Big River Bandido

    I read DeLong’s piece in an airport last Tuesday, so I may have missed something (or I may have read an abridged version). But I think Steiner and Black read a little too much into it.

    I interpreted DeLong’s statement essentially as saying now neoliberals will have to make policy by collaborating with the left rather than the right. And I certainly didn’t get the sense he was looking to the left to lead, but instead how neoliberals could co-opt the left, or simply be “freeloaders”.

  17. Michael

    Zack Beauchamp

    So the position is not that neoliberals should abandon their policy beliefs. It’s that you need to reorient your understanding of who your coalition is.

    Brad DeLong

    Yes, but that’s also relevant to policy beliefs, right?
    We need Medicare-for-all, funded by a carbon tax, with a whole bunch of UBI rebates for the poor and public investment in green technologies.
    How does Bernie fit in here? Ever?

    1. Kurtismayfield

      We already are paying more for the medical care that is being provided than what single lpayer will cost. I am so tired of the “How are you gonna pay for it” stuff. We already are, it’s just a question of what bucket it comes from.

      1. Oregoncharles

        True, but there still has to be a way of transferring the funds from the “private” bucket to the “government” bucket. MMT is one way of doing that, but still not acknowledged as a possibility by the PTB – except for the military, of course.

        I’d rather see it taken out of the military, since that would be a good thing in itself, and the carbon tax (merely one of many measures, of course) rebated and/or used specifically to remediate climate deterioration. Rebating a carbon tax both protects it politically and corrects the harm that would otherwise be done to poor people.

        1. kurtismayfield

          Take it out if the property taxes that Muni’s have to use to insure all of their employees.

          Take it out of all the money that business pays to health insurance.

          Cut the military budget in half and tell a few if the tributaries “You are on your own”. Cut the Navy in half and police only the Pacific.. tell Europe they are on the hook for the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

          Start there and you will get pretty close to $3 Trillion.

          1. Aloha

            Totally agree, where did that 22 trillion go again??? Oh right the MIC and congress decided to shut down the audit on the Pentagon because it was looking like we have a lot of griffters on both sides of the isle in office and they don’t want GQ public to know. Geeez it might cause a protest and demand yet another inquiry into the corruption and we can’t have that now can we?

  18. Synoia

    Mandatory retirement for Politicians:

    Age 65, 3 proven lies, or failure to complete a Marathon in under 6 hours.

    Whit hope the the result of the first Marathon would be repeated endlessly in our political circles.

  19. Oregoncharles

    Quoting DeLong: ” He says we are discredited. Our policies have failed. And they’ve failed because we’ve been conned by the Republicans.”

    That’s welcome, but it’s still making excuses. Neoliberal policies have failed because the economics were wrong, not because “we’ve been conned by the Republicans.” Furthermore, this may be important – if it isn’t acknowledged, those policies are quite likely to come sneaking back, especially if Democrats are more in the ascendant., as they will be, given the seesaw built into the 2-Party.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Might be right there. Groups like the neocons were originally attached the the left side of politics but when the winds changed, detached themselves and went over to the Republican right. The winds are changing again so those who want power may be going over to what is called the left now to keep their grip on power. But what you say is quite true. It is not really the policies that failed but the economics themselves that were wrong and which, in an honest debate, does not make sense either.

  20. marku52

    “And they’ve failed because we’ve been conned by the Republicans.””

    Not at all. What about the “free trade” hokum that Deong and his pal Krugman have been peddling since forever? History and every empirical test in the modern era shows that it fails in developing countries and only exacerbates inequality in richer ones.

    That’s just a failed policy.

    I’m still waiting for an apology for all those years that those two insulted anyone who questioned their dogma as just “too ignorant to understand.”

    1. Glen

      Thank you!

      He created FAILED policies. He pushed policies which have harmed America, harmed Americans, and destroyed the American dream.

  21. Kevin Carhart

    It’s intriguing, but two other voices come to mind. One is Never Let a Serious Crisis Go To Waste by Mirowski and the other is Generation Like by Doug Rushkoff. Neoliberalism is partially entrepreneurial self-conceptions which took a long time to promote. Rushkoff’s Frontline shows the Youtube culture. There is a girl with a “leaderboard” on the wall of her suburban room, keeping track of her metrics. There’s a devastating VPRO Backlight film on the same topic. Internet-platform neoliberalism does not have much to do with the GOP. It’s going to be an odd hybrid at best – you could have deep-red communism but enacted for and by people whose self-conception is influenced by decades of Becker and Hayek? One place this question leads is to ask what’s the relationship between the set of ideas and material conditions-centric philosophies? If new policies pass that create a different possibility materially, will the vise grip of the entrepreneurial self loosen? Partially yeah, maybe, a Job Guarantee if it passes and actually works, would be an anti-neoliberal approach to jobs, which might partially loosen the regime of neoliberal advice for job candidates delivered with a smug attitude that There Is No Alternative. (Described by Gershon). We take it seriously because of a sense of dread that it might actually be powerful enough to lock us out if we don’t, and an uncertainty of whether it is or not.
    There has been deep damage which is now a very broad and resilient base. It is one of the prongs of why 2008 did not have the kind of discrediting effect that 1929 did. At least that’s what I took away from _Never Let_. Brad DeLong handing the baton might mean something but it is not going to ameliorate the sense-of-life that young people get from managing their channels and metrics.
    Take the new 1099 platforms as another focal point. Suppose there were political measures that splice in on the platforms and take the edge off materially, such as underwritten healthcare not tied to your job. The platforms still use star ratings, make star ratings seem normal, and continually push a self-conception as a small business. If you have overt DSA plus covert Becker it is, again, a strange hybrid,

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Your comment is very insightful. Neoliberalism embeds its mindset into the very fabric of our culture and self-concepts. It strangely twists many of our core myths and beliefs.

      1. Kevin Carhart

        Thanks Jeremy! Glad you saw it as you are one of the Major Mirowski Mentioners on NC and I have enjoyed your comments. Hope to chat with you some time.

  22. Harold

    And this be law, that I’ll maintain until my dying day, sir
    That whatsoever king may reign, Still I’ll be the Vicar of Bray, sir.

  23. Raulb

    This is nothing but a trojan horse to ‘co-opt’ and ‘subvert’. Neoliberals sense a risk to their neo feudal project and are simply attempting to infiltrate and hollow out any threats from within.

    There are the same folks who have let entire economics departments becomes mouthpieces for corporate propaganda and worked with thousands of think tanks and international organizations to mislead, misinform and cause pain to millions of people.

    The have seeded decontextualized words like ‘wealth creators’ and ‘job creators’ to create a halo narrative for corporate interests and undermine society, citizenship, the social good, the environment that make ‘wealth creation’ even possible. So all those take a backseat to ‘wealth creator’ interests. Since you can’t create wealth without society this is some achievement.

    Its because of them that we live in a world where the most important economic idea is protecting people like Kochs business and personal interests and making sure government is not ‘impinging on their freedom’. And the corollary a fundamental anti-human narrative where ordinary people and workers are held in contempt for even expecting living wages and conditions and their access to basics like education, health care and living conditions is hollowed out out to promote privatization and become ‘entitlements’.

    Neoliberalism has left us with a decontextualized highly unstable world that exists in a collective but is forcefully detached into a context less individual existence. These are not mistakes of otherwise ‘well meaning’ individuals, there are the results of hard core ideologues and high priests of power.

    1. Dan

      Two thumbs up. This has been an ongoing agenda for decades and it has succeeded in permeating every aspect of society, which is why the United States is such a vacuous, superficial place. And it’s exporting that superficiality to the rest of the world.

  24. VietnamVet

    I read Brad DeLong’s and Paul Krugman’s blogs until their contradictions became too great. If anything, we need more people seeing the truth. The Global War on Terror is into its 18th year. In October the USA will spend approximately $6 trillion and will have accomplish nothing except to create blow back. The Middle Class is disappearing. Those who remain in their homes are head over heels in debt. The average American household carries $137,063 in debt. The wealthy are getting richer. The Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates families together have as much wealth as the lowest half of Americans. Donald Trump’s Presidency and Brexit document that neoliberal politicians have lost contact with reality. They are nightmares that there is no escaping. At best, perhaps, Roosevelt Progressives will be reborn to resurrect regulated capitalism and debt forgiveness. But more likely is a middle-class revolt when Americans no longer can pay for water, electricity, food, medicine and are jailed for not paying a $1,500 fine for littering the Beltway.

    A civil war inside a nuclear armed nation state is dangerous beyond belief. France is approaching this.

    1. Dan

      Debt forgiveness is something we don’t hear much about, even from the Bernie Sanders left. Very important policy throughout history, as Michael Hudson has so thoroughly documented.

  25. Robin Kash

    The concessions of DeLong, as reported, seem like nothing so much as a Trojan horse. A modest proposal to capture the ideas and energy of the Left, while the corporate Democrats (center-right is generous) keep dialing for Big Money.

  26. Harold

    I’d like to hear him say he and his buddies made as a big mistake about foreign policy as about economics. That’ll be the day.

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