Krugthulu snorts at opinionmakers who demanded Bush bills that exploded the deficit, held up Ireland as an economic model and now act like like the budget crisis is some passive-tense disaster that just sort of happened because ordinary people are stupid. Dan Drezner calls that silly because polls supported cutting taxes and invading Iraq. Drum points out that polls always supported those things but, until Bush, nobody actually did them because informed people understood that they were bad policy.
I would add two things.
(1) Popular opinion is not exactly an inexorable force to which politicians swing like algae on a harbor rock. If you have enough money and enough media outlets you can make people care about any damn thing you want.
Do people remember 2003 anymore? The only people thinking hard about Iraq right after 9/11 either worked in the White House or knew personally someone who did. Once Bush and his neocon advisers decided to go to Iraq it took a full-court press by FOX, the internet right, talk radio, nonstop screaming hysteria from the bully pulpit and a healthy dose of processed bullshit fed to pet reporters like Judith “fucking right” Miller. It also took an incredible amount of naked lying. The decayed corpse of Hermann Goering pretty much nailed it.
If you care enough and have enough resources public opinion just doesn’t mean anything. It might be relevant for third rail issues like Medicare and Social Security (that is to say, they have support that no amount of screaming on FOX can budge) and yet Republicans keep taking a tire iron to those anyway. That is nigh inexplicable unless you dismiss the idea that public opinion has even a small influence on the GOP agenda.
(2) If anything the recession is an even more obvious point in Krugman’s favor. The most obviously stupid move in the whole affair came when a bipartisan team of wise men decided late in the Clinton Administration to deregulate the banking industry. In a sense bankers are like algae on a harbor rock: at least collectively they don’t have any complex or hidden motives. They want to get rich and they will follow whatever incentive system government creates (whether it means to or not) to get wealthy as fast as possible. Those bizarre investment decisions of the early aughts make perfect sense if you consider that the people who made them made a fortune and kept it. So their firms caught fire and blew up. Who cares? Those “stupid” bankers are still stupid rich. Unless the rules change and/or a lot of people go to jail, you can bet any money that they will make the same decisions again.
Harder to understand is why a small band of respected leaders such as Phil Gramm, Bob Rubin and Alan Greenspan set out on what amounted to a holy jihad against accountability and transparency in banking. “The public” did not demand banking reform because “the public” had no idea what banking reform is. Alan Greenspan, on the other hand, must have had some idea where his jihad was leading. Uncle Alan represented Charles Keating in 1984.
I will repeat Krugman’s conclusion because the point cannot be made enough.
[T]he larger answer, I’d argue, is that by making up stories about our current predicament that absolve the people who put us here there, we cut off any chance to learn from the crisis. We need to place the blame where it belongs, to chasten our policy elites. Otherwise, they’ll do even more damage in the years ahead.
Alternatively: LEARN, GODDAMNIT. LEARN.