My readers may doubt my sincerity, but I like Governor Scott Walker. Let me tell you why. For years I have been teaching my students that economics, by itself, is insufficient; that, in order to think responsibly about economics, we must also learn how to think wisely and coherently about politics as well. Some of my students, unheeding, have launched themselves into quite successful careers as center/left-of-center economists. More power to them, I say. But then someone like Gov. Scott Walker comes along. “No problem,” these students say. We will just point out to the governor how all the leading economists—right, left, and center—from Adam Smith to Paul Krugman have shown how belt-tightening during a recession makes no economic sense; that what political actors need to do during such lean stretches is find ways to stimulate consumption and investment. These students will take Gov. Walker to one side and explain, in as cheerful and unbiased a way as possible, that whenever political actors have deprived working families of their purchasing power and transferred this wealth to corporate actors “in order to stimulate growth,” these same corporate actors have countered (correctly) that, since working families no longer have the means to purchase their goods, there is now no incentive for them to plow their “savings” (from lower wages and taxes) into producing consumer goods. Instead, they will sit on their “savings” (thank you) or invest it somewhere else, perhaps in Germany or France, where consumers have sufficient incomes to buy their products; or, they will pour their “savings” into manufacturing elsewhere, in nations whose families are so poor (and equally unable to purchase finished consumer items) as to work for almost nothing. Surely, once my former students explain these facts to Governor Walker; surely, he will change his ways. Right?
Wrong. Governor Walker’s hostility to working families has nothing to do with sound economic policy. If Governor Walker would not listen to the last two hundred and fifty years of economists—left, right, and center—what makes you think he is going to listen to you?
Consider, first, Governor Walker’s political base. Governor Walker’s base is composed, on the one hand, of a handful of highly educated corporate executives and lobbyists who are perfectly happy to rake in the financial benefits they will derive from his economic mismanagement of the Wisconsin economy; and, on the other hand, the vast majority of Wisconsin citizens (no offense) who have benefited from these same corporate executives’ highly successful misinformation campaigns on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and ABC news affiliates. Who are these constituents going to believe: a bunch of egg-head economists from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Chicago, and Berkeley; or their trusted talking-heads on the evening news? Come on.
Which is why we economists can yell, scream, and cajole till we are blue in the face.
Second, consider Governor Walker’s reasons for pursuing a course of austerity. The fact that his policies are not reality based begs the issue. Of course they’re not. Governor Walker is an ideologue. If his ideas don’t fit reality, he is perfectly happy to bend reality to fit his ideas, which he and his constituents know are right.
Finally, consider the likely consequences of contesting Governor Walker on economic grounds. The likely consequences—or, rather, the actual consequences, since we now see the result—are that he will call out his Fox-News educated constituency, whose members hate unions and hate state workers, and the unions will call out their constituencies—organized working families and non-corporate educated elites. And, so we’ll fight it out, not on the merits of the case (there are no merits to their case), but in the arena of politics.
This is not to say that economists are irrelevant. In fact, since we want our policies to be reality (and not ideology) based, we need economists in a way that Governor Walker and his constituents do not. But, we also need individuals able and willing to think politically and strategically and to canvass supporters for resources (i.e., money) to build networks of information, organization, and coordination that have a reasonable chance of standing up to their (at the moment superior) networks of misinformation, organization, and coordination.
Short of this, the only result can be: We’re right, We lose (or the opposite).