The Conscience of a Liberal

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With this major new volume, Paul Krugman, "the heir apparent to Galbraith" (Alan Blinder) and, today's most widely read economist, studies the past eighty years of American history, from the reforms that tamed the harsh inequality of the Gilded Age to the unraveling of that achievement and the reemergence of immense economic and political inequality since the 1970s. Seeking to understand both what happened to middle-class America and what it will take to achieve a "new New Deal," Krugman has created his finest book to date, a work that weaves together a nuanced account of three generations of history with sharp political, social, and economic analysis. This book, written with Krugman's trademark ability to explain complex issues simply, will transform the debate about American social policy in much the same way as did John Kenneth Galbraith's deeply influential book, The Affluent Society.

Customer Reviews:

  • Almost as disappointing as his preference for Hillary over Obama
    I read a review of this book by Michael Tomasky before readng it. I was looking forward to reading this book. I read Krugman's columns. I liked his columns that were critical of Republicans, although I think his recent columns questioning Obama have been missing the point.

    I thought this book was not all that well written. He constantly brings up a point only to say "we will get to that later". To do that once or twice is okay but to do it constantly throughout the book is too repetitious. And also he says things that have been said before, there's really nothing new.

    I found the book kind of a dull read.

    I also think he doesn't fully understand the medicare system. It's not just for seniors it's also for the disabled. It doesn't cover as much as medicaid does. I would like to see someone talk about a comparison of medicaid and medicare and if there is a political rationale for why the two systems are different. I think there may be some motivation to make the elderly blame the poor.I used to work in hospitals as a social worker and most patients know full well that medicaid covers social services and medicare does not.

    I would recommend reading this book, but with reservations.

    I read his column in the NY Times and I see that he praises Hillary but not Obama.
    This is also a disappointment to me....more info
  • Great book! A must read for all "so-called" liberals
    This is an excellent book that lays out the reason why and how we need to make things right again. Its case for National Health care is laid out brilliantly. ...more info
  • Excellent economic analysis from the "liberal" perspective.
    I suppose hardcore Republicans will choke on Krugman's analysis of what has happened in America but it seems pretty impressive to me. I'm curious to know how small government "Club For Growth" types will explain the current sub prime debacle. If there is proof that markets aren't perfect and government is needed to curb the market's excesses this is it....more info
  • The Conscience of a Liberal
    My husband received the book for Christmas and raves about it (likewise a close friend of ours). A must read for people interested in our government. It tells how our government got to be the way it is, and some ideas on how to fix it....more info
  • Krugman rules, so this book should be awesome
    The Conscience of a Liberal

    I haven't yet read this book; I tend to buy lots of books at a time and then get to them as soon as possible. But this book arrived very quickly in excellent condition and a huge alarm that said "Read me first, me first, put me on your nightstand!" So, it's on my nightstand in a stack of 8 books that also screamed at me.

    Krugman, however, is one of the most important political figures of our time (a Nobel Prize recipient) and hugely intelligent. I recommend this book for anyone who likes to really dig deep into political or economic issues and has a stomach strong enough to deal with the truth.

    The book seller did his job well also....more info
  • Well-researched and illuminating
    A must-read before the next election, this book puts the neoconservative movement in historical perspective and argues persuasively for a more progressive domestic agenda....more info
  • A lot of yarn based on false premises
    This book does not let reality get in the way of storytelling. The whole premise of the New Deal being the solution to the Great Depression ignores the fact that the New Deal was a failure, and that the economy did not rebound until after the massive government spending of WW2 and the foreign demand created by the damaged infrastructure overseas.

    This book is a not-so-thinly veiled political hack story. If you agree with the ideology, you will probably like the writing. If you don't or are undecided, this book won't be helpful....more info
  • And, the public continues to vote against its own self interest...
    "Liberalism, in other words, isn't just about the welfare state: It's about democracy and the rule of law."
    "I believe in a relatively equal society supported by institutions that limit extremes of wealth and poverty. I believe in democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law. That makes me a liberal, and I'm proud of it."
    It would be embarrassing to admit how long it took me to read Krugman's book. The documentation of how those in power and money- our betters- wish to fast track the segmentation of our society, so the rich can grab it all, became increasingly depressing. This was hardly a revelation...but still a painful reality. Rights, equality, and democracy are what liberalism is about. This is an important book which will be not included in the No Child Left Behind curriculum, which will not stir America to action, which will soon become totally ignored. But, prove me wrong! Read the book! Give copies to your friends! Make the U.S. a better place.
    ...more info
  • seminal book - a must read in a decisive historical moment
    For a decade I have been reading Krugman's texts that he published as social commentator and columnist. I've always admired his writing - his insights made on the basis of his expert economic knowledge combined with clear and concise style - but I wondered about his extremely critical assessments that, in comparison to conventional wisdom of the past decade, often sounded way too bleak. He warned about housing bubble years in advance and he correctly evaluated the future consequences of Bush's disastrous neoconservative policies. In comparison to complacent judgments of commentariat in the American media he sometimes made an impression of an extreme doomsayer out of touch with reality. A retrospective glance from the the beginning of 2009 at the moment of raging crisis validates his views as prophetic. I've just read new edition of his Depression economics and A Conscience of a Liberal - both superb and superior works. Especially Conscience of a Liberal seems to be a seminal work that represents a turning point for popular understanding of political economy. The neoconservative push for free markets, deregulation and deconstruction of welfare state, an ideology that was dominant in politics and among mainstream media pundits for at least since Reagan's reign, seems to be at an end and Krugman has pretty good explanation why. It's important to note that Krugman is not a Marxist but a prominent Keynesian economist of centrist bent that offers radically different view of the last half century. I believe that his new narrative of recent political and economic history will be validated again and again by historical developments and will in the end prevail....more info
  • Synthesis
    This book is a very readable history of economics and politics in the U.S. brought to bear on today's financial times. Mr. Krugman has the unique ability to speak in lay terms and provide an excellent framework for understanding where we've been,where we are and where we're going....more info
  • Not Krugman's Best, But Still Worth the Read
    Paul Krugman is an incisive observer of economic trends, and his customary acumen is displayed in portions of "Conscience of a Liberal". Krugman is his best in describing the growth of U.S. income inequality since 1980, in drawing parallels between contemporary America and the pre-New Deal era, and in prescribing a way forward for America's embattled liberals and progressives. Krugman is also persuasive in arguing that political reforms drive income distribution, a theory that runs counter to substantial commentary over the past several decades that asserts that economic trends drive political developments. These elements of "Conscience of a Liberal" make worthwhile reading.

    But despite these considerable strengths, Krugman's coverage of the rise of movement conservatism is a tired repackaging of the substantial literature on the rise and rule of the political right. This material has been covered at length and in more persuasive detail by others, and there is little to be learned-- unless you are new to this subject-- by Krugman's recounting of how the Democratic Party lost the South.

    Krugman is at his best when he sticks to economics and aspects of public affairs which are linked to the subjects of living standards and income distribution. This reader looks forward to a volume in which Krugman displays his talents more fully....more info
  • please read this before the next presidential election
    Those people nostalgic for the good old days of the 50's should read this book to find out why. It's basically a political history of America based on economics.

    Finally a liberal comes out to define what the word "liberal" really means, a word which has been demonized by Rush Limbaugh's definition for the past 15 years with nobody trying to correct it. America was created by liberal values and it's the "conservative" radicals who are trying to dismantle the country we love.

    Krugman's arguments are well thought out, well documented, and very readable. If you've lived through America in the 20th century you know his story rings true.

    Perhaps the era of the Movement Conservatives is finally over (William F. Buckley died today), let's hope, but please read this book before the next presidential election and show it to your friends. If you're worried about the healthcare crisis or where this country is headed, this will give you direction.

    To be informed, citizens and voters everywhere should read this....more info
  • ahistorical, nonsensical, pseudo-intellectual babble
    The title of the book is oxymoronic; the same can be said of its contents (minus the oxy). ...more info
  • Heart and Brains on the Sleeve
    Economists properly equipped with a balanced combination of heart and brains did not need the Nobel Prize in order to recognize Paul Krugman's valuable contribution both to the "dismal science" and to the global public discourse (such as it is...). "The Conscience of a Liberal" is a sine-qua-non for anyone caring to analyze the current global financial (and real-economy) crisis. It isd also a great springboard for a search for the right policy mix to attain viable solutions to the huge problem we are all facing. ...more info
  • Nothing Radical Here
    For those born in the 40's and 50's who always suspected their birthright had been stolen by the conservative right in the 80's this book is a must read. For millions like myself and my family who rose from poverty to middle class success on the back of the New Deal, who found decent wages in unionism, and comfort in the prospect of an assured retirement Paul Krugman's book elucidates the foundations of those historical decades when American society approached financial equality.

    With the same clarity the author exposes how the movement conservatives starting with Ronald Regan subtly manipulated the race issue to induce poor whites across the south and elsewhere to vote repeatedly against there own self interest, thereby gaining political control in much of America.
    I have always been one to worry about the power of religion to produce negative consequences for the human race in general and America in particular. Consequently I may have given the religious right too much credit for the rise to power of movement conservatism. Krugman deals with the religion issue specifically and demonstrates how the arrow of shame points directly at racism. While that may sound discouraging to some I find hope there. I think our society has a much better chance of overcoming race as a source of conflict than overcoming religion as a source of conflict.

    The author closes the book with a proposal to return to the New Deal starting with the implementation of universal health insurance. For most of the developed world universal health care has long been established. I find it interesting that the movement conservatives have shifted the Republican party so far to the right that the Democratic party now appears to be a party of the "center". There is nothing radical about a proposal for universal health insurance. In fact, the author concludes, it is an idea whose time has come.
    ...more info
  • Nobel Prize Guy Breaks It Down for Pitbulls & Plumbers
    My wife and I listen to a lot of CD books driving to and from Florida. This one beats them all. During the the Wall Street Giveaway, Krugman got our attention with the clarity of his TV interviews. He simplifies without distortion.
    In this book, he also explains, with clear and expert economic and political analysis, the manipulation machinery, purchased politicians, and derailed democracy of the last 30 years. I have always felt that our Republican Party abandoned conservatism and embraced radicalism since Reagan. Krugman says exactly this, out loud and explains how and why it has come about. The cynical anti-American bunch that has overseen the mammoth transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich, the destruction of our national security and the embrace of the communist Chinese is exposed by Krugman.
    If you have experienced unease with those who have driven the country into the ground, listen to this book for a message of hope in the economic trend that Krugman sees ahead. If you consider yourself an enthusiastic "Republican", read the book if you dare to know where your kind are headed. If you watched the Democratic Convention and wondered why the place was overflowing with Eisenhower Republicans and military chiefs, read the book. If you want to know why Fox News ratings are down and why people are finally seeing through what billionaire elitist, communist-friendly foreigner, Rupert Murdoch would have us believe about our own country, read the book.
    What I guess I liked most is that Krugman wades through the facts and figures showing the monumental waste, welfare for the rich, cheating and lying that has infected America but does not leave us bleeding and drowning in negativity. His last few chapters (written in summer 2007 before the neo-Con economic implosion was complete) testify to the changing trends that no longer favor the radical right and the "New Gilded Age". The chapter on raising our Health Care system up from 37th in the world and saving billions of dollars is worth the price of the book.
    Yes, Ann Coulter is still out there babbling about the non-existent "left-wing media bias" and how the wealth from her hate-speech-filled books is gonna be redistributed under Obama. (Who would want that blood money??) Bernie Madoff is still free on bail (for what reason?), transferring all his stolen wealth to safe-havens. BUT, the landslide election of vast numbers of people with a different idea of who democracy serves verifies that Krugman is on to something.
    I said to my wife that the end of the book reminds me of Winston Smith's words to the wealthy power-elite at the end of Orwell's 1984 "Life will defeat you." America's nature is to be open, diverse, and full of opportunity for life, liberty and happiness for everyone. Life will defeat this narrow radical bunch that Eisenhower accurately summed up as "stupid". ...more info
  • Interesting Slant
    I'm a political moderate who's eyes caught the title of this book, in a bookstore. Thinking this might be the liberal version of "Conscience of a Conservative", I bought this book. After reading this, I've got to say, that Barry Goldwater did a much better of describing conservatism in the first 10 pages of his book, then Krugman did in almost 300 pages of this book.

    There doesn't seem to be much about the "Liberal Conscience" in here, but more of a listing of stereotypes about conservatives, which, to the author anyway, are a monolithic group of elites, consistently conspiring to keep little man down, particularly the black ones. If you're a die hard liberal, then this book will reinforce every misconception you have about conservatives.

    Krugman and Ann Coulter are pretty much two peas in a pod, but Krugman seems a lot nicer....more info
  • Conscience of a Liberal
    Excellent book especially if you agree with Professor Krugman's philosophy as I do. I have minor dissagreements with some of his interpretations and also think some importants events and related personalitys were omitted. But all in all I think his basic premise is right on and I would highly recommend this book....more info
  • Essential Reading
    Krugman isn't concerned with narrowly defined economics. This is an historical perspective that incorporates the social and political forces that shape the economy. In fact, his thesis is that the increasing inequality in the United States, a feature which is more and more exceptional to this country when compared to other advanced Western countries, is a result of the policies brought upon by the movement conservatism ideology which took over the Republican Party since Ronald Reagan.
    This movement has now (the book was published in 2007) been rejected by the majority of the electorate and it is up to Barack Obama's government the task of implementing a new New Deal that would reduce inequality and deliver a better economic future to the overwhelming majority of America's population.
    Given the crossroads where we are now, it is essential to understand the powerful forces that will match each other, the interest groups lying beneath each one, and to see beyond wedge issues that have divided the electorate. Krugman does it masterfully. This is the best book I have read in a long time....more info
  • Well researched, largely supported by the evidence...
    This book makes a lot of claims about the success of the New Deal at compressing incomes and increasing income equality. Krugman attributes economic success not only to these outcomes, but also to the social norms and lasting political institutions which were products of the New Deal.

    That last sentence above, regarding lasting effects on the economy flowing from new social norms and political institutions is the more interesting thesis. Until this book, there seemed a very murky case to be made for the power of political and social devices on our economy.

    I think Krugman cuts through really interesting territory here. He makes a good case, based mostly on evidence, but sometimes on mere observational logic. But when approaching his case from weaker evidence, he's honest about it.

    Conservative idealogues won't like it, and most of the negative reviews in this forum reflect that slant. Liberal idealogues we'll feel an uncontrollable urge to shout, "I told you . .!". But all in all, this book is, to say the very least, very interesting and a compelling argument. It's a refreshing alternative view to the tax-cut, supply-side crowd, who've never had impressive amounts of data to support their views.
    ...more info
  • Raising Our Conscience
    This is an elegantly written book for anyone wondering why the U.S. is in
    the mess it is in, and truly speaks to America's now lost values.

    Krugman reminds us of who we once were. ...more info
  • Change the Title
    Excellent explaination, easy read, This book needs a new title, it should be called How we got in this mess, how we got out of it and why we're in it again! With the new title it can be passed along to friends who are afraid to read a book with the word "liberal" on it.
    ...more info
  • The New Dominant Paradigm Fueling Political Momentum
    The reason we study history is not only to avoid the mistakes of the past but also to follow the trends that inevitably lead us into the future. As evidenced by his latest book, Paul Krugman has a special talent for navigating the economic roadmap of American history. By making comparisons concerning income inequality in the pre-depression era and their relevance to the current era, he discovered the trend that would lead to the crash of 2008. This remarkably persuasive timeline stepped on the invisible hand of the market and foretold of a return to the policies and ideals once celebrated as the New Deal. With the election of Barack Obama as President, Paul's pragmatic progressivism appears to have become the new dominant paradigm fueling political momentum. After combing the fine grains of this clearly defined essay, you'll understand completely why he was awarded the Nobel Prize. It took courage to stand against the heavy winds of propaganda and declare a counterpoint refutation against the conservative powers of our times. By the end of the book I was truly proud to call myself a Liberal. ...more info
  • How the left is right
    Krugman does another excellent job explaining how progressive America built the middle class and why it needs to be protected. From the Great Depression to the New Deal, from the sweat shops to the labor movement, from Wall Street to Main street, Krugman walks us through progressive ideals of the twentieth century and the predicted unravelling of right wing tyranny today.

    This was one of the best nonfiction books I've read, written completely in laymen's language without the lofty deceptions of authors like Gingrich and Limbaugh. This book is terrific and should be part of any personal library or economic study....more info
  • Don't gild the lily!

    What made US incomes so equal for a generation after WW2? And why has inequality since returned to Gilded Age levels? Not globalisation or technology, says Krugman, but changes in social norms and institutions.

    The "Great Compression" was brought about during World War II, when full employment, wage controls and unionisation equalised wages, and what the rich still got was taxed heavily. A generation later, a determined conservative movement reversed these changes. Minimum wages, unions and progressive taxation were weakened, as well as less tangible norms about acceptable pay levels.

    How did this movement succeed, when the average American was worse off as a result? Four simple words: the South went Republican.

    This barebones story comes with plenty of meat. Other explanations for both economic and political trends are considered carefully before being rejected, on grounds of size or timing. On most of these issues, I have little to say other than "I agree." To the nitpicking!

    There is a certain amount of double dipping, particularly on the political side, with nearly identical material repeated in different chapters. And on health care, inequality, and youth unemployment, he repeatedly picks a particular explanation, shows that it explains some of the problem, and proceeds as if it explains all of the problem. (I can't get his numbers to add up on unemployment either, but that might be my mistake.) Most of all, I would love to know what changed his opinion on the minimum wage (and, by implication, unions) from 1998:

    "What is remarkable, however, is how this rather iffy result [Card and Kreuger] has been seized upon by some liberals as a rationale for making large minimum wage increases a core component of the liberal agenda . . . Clearly these advocates very much want to believe that the price of labor--unlike that of gasoline, or Manhattan apartments--can be set based on considerations of justice, not supply and demand, without unpleasant side effects."
    ...more info
  • The Conscience of a Liberal
    This is not only an important book but an historic one as well: this book describes the effort of Plutocrats to wrest control of the US government 1870-1929 and 1980-2008 by using RACE as the wedge issue to breakdown the loyalty of the middle class to New Deal Politics. To this Krugman reduces American Democracy. The good news is that this 130 year era is ending: the book has a happy and hopeful ending.

    Charles Marsteller...more info
  • O.K. Social History Economist?
    I have to say, I was dissapointed with this book. The central thesis of the book is that markets never created the middle class lifestyle prevalent in the 1950's and 1960's but that this came about as a result of policies instituted as part of the New Deal. With the rise of the movement conservativism since the 1970's these policies have deteriorated and so has the middle class they created. Krugman believes it is possible to return to a more egalitarian distribution of wealth (and correspondingly for most, a higher quality of life than we currently enjoy) through a resurrection of New Deal values particularly an emphasis on strong unions. Krugman describes vaguely policies of the New Deal, guesses at their social/economic ramifications and spends quite a bit of time on the rise of Movement Conservativism. Krugman's idea is interesting and timely but he really doesn't do a very good job in supporting his argument. I was dissapointed in the lack of detail examining New Deal policies and their economic consequences and most of the social history Krugman covers is somewhat vague. As Krugman is an economist I was really expecting the book to involve substantial quantitative analysis, but I don't recall running across one statistic in the whole book and most of his conclusions seem like he is making a good guess. The whole book seems as through it was more of a first draft where he is fleshing out his basic ideas but still has as yet to go back and do the tedious work of substantiating them with....fact. In a nutshell, compelling idea but very poor on follow-through. Particularly dissapointing because the idea itself is really worth writing about. Also, the title really seems to market itself to an audience that identifies itself as "liberal" when in reality citizens of any political persuasion would benefit from this read....more info
  • A decent history of the New Deal in practice
    Economist Paul Krugman offers an 8 chapter history of the New Deal with the remaining chapters amounting to a "to do" list for a coming progressive majority in Congress and the White House.

    I certainly enjoyed his stories of growing up with the relative income equality of the 50s and 60s. Interestingly, the New Deal was a product of global economic recession, and - with no global economic shock appearing on the horizon - I'm not sure that his dream of a liberal renaissance can be realized.

    Krugman prefers to isolate racism and not religious conservatism as the reason for America's reluctance to go as far as other advanced countries in its adoption of a social safety net. To some extent, the next few national elections will either substantiate or refute this premise.

    Krugman also tends to demonize those he calls "Movement Conservatives" a bit. But, if you enjoy politics and economics, I think you will enjoy this book. ...more info
  • Finally some good news!
    I pretty much read only non-fiction, which is usually very informative but highly depressing. Krugman somehow manages to cover the modern American political state of affairs without depressing me. In fact this book is very hopeful in specific ways and overall quite uplifting.

    In modern American political discourse, it seems common for any statistic that supports an ideological position to be used to further that point of view. Krugman takes the opposite tack: citing relevant and logically coherent information to describe in context where we are and how we got here. He then uses the same reasonable approach to outline achievable solutions to the problems of inequality that we face. It's nice to see the fixes as well as the problems.

    I just hope Barak read this too....more info
  • Thoroughly enjoyed this
    I listen to audio CD's a lot, and I really appreciate a competent reader. Jason Culp (the reader) does a very nice job. It helps that the material is written in a very well laid out manner with an easy style.

    Krugman is extremely convincing. His explanations of the "gilded age", "the compression", the factors which allowed the compression to unravel, and the meanings of neo-conservatism are as clear and reasoned as I've heard....more info
  • Thought Provoking
    Paul Krugman, in talking about the modern conservative movement, paints a picture of a political machine running out of control. In this volume, Krugman takes a look back at the economic conditions as they evolved throughout the 20th century. The crowning economic achievement according to Krugman was the enactment of FDR's New Deal, which ushered in an era of prosperity and economic equality.

    Krugman goes on to outline the creation and evolution of movement conservatism and how this fringe element went on to take over the Republican party. He then outlines the efforts that these conservatives have taken to undermine the achievements of the New Deal and how these changes have led to a greater level of economic disparity, which in turn leads to a breakdown of democracy.

    With the recent success of the Democratic party, according to Krugman due to the realization of many that the Republican party no longer has their interests at heart, the author suggests that universal healthcare should be a target of the new government in order to bring America into the modern world and in order to show to the majority of voters that government programs can make a big positive difference in their lives.

    Krugman raises many interesting points, especially in the area of healthcare. I recommend those who are interested in learning about the changes that have occured in American society and the American economy over the past 30 years read this. It will make you think twice about who should be considered to be "conservative" and who should be considered to be "radical". ...more info
  • Highly recommended for all Americans, liberal or otherwise
    This is a must-read book for all Americans. Of course it's for liberals who are looking for a deeper understanding of their causes -- the last chapter is essentially a manifesto and call to arms -- but also, perhaps surprisingly, it would be a worthwhile read for moderate Republicans who have been left wondering what the heck happened to their party. I have some conservative-leaning friends who have lamented the way the term "Republican" has become a badge of shame, stating that their families have always been Republican and that they're good people. The history Krugman presents in this book may provide an oddly soothing answer to people in such a situation -- while also, no doubt, making them even angrier than their Democratic friends!

    Finally, it would be a good read for people who do still consider themselves conservatives or Republicans and who think liberals are wrong but can't pinpoint why -- perhaps, again, just because they've just been raised to think badly of "liberalism." Maybe I'm hopelessly optimistic, but I like to think that at least some of those people would change their mind after reading this, because I do believe a majority of Americans share these core "liberal" values.

    The highlights of this book for me were its excellent, easy-to-follow presentation of a history, its strong, sensible arguments in favor of universal health care, its great articulation of the core liberal belief of limiting the extremes of poverty and (to do so) of over-the-top wealth -- made especially powerful in light of Wall Street's latest disaster -- and, finally, the way he addresses the role of partisanship in today's society. Very, very good stuff. Highly recommended!...more info
  • A Liberal Bible Worth Memorizing
    From the Long Guilded Age to the Great Depression to the Great Compression to the Great Diversion and now with the Democrats and Obama in office, we are once again in a position to restore the New Deal, economic equality, democracy and bring back American liberalism.

    This book is my philosophy, I am a liberal and proud of it. I have been watching the United States during the past 30 years go up in conservative bigotry and supply-side economics, where the wealthy grow more wealth, the poor loose what they have, being economically starved, the middle class shrink and the government turn into a domestically small incompetant entity based on corruption and partisan loyalty, the very antithesis of what the United States has stood for; liberty, community and equality.

    I recommend memorizing this book, its one of the best out there....more info
  • Conscience of a Liberal
    I give this book a five star rating. I believe it is a must read for every voting American. Paul Krugman carefully reviews the political climate of recent administrations and makes sense out of trends that have been very puzzling to me. He documents the very real cohesive conspiracy developed by so called conservatives (Movement conservatism) that has led to the increasing inequality between rich and poor. He calls on people of good will who want government by law with concern for poor as well as the rich to demand conservation of true American values not based on the greed of a few. ...more info
  • If you do read it, keep questioning and thinking for yourself as you go.
    Paul Krugman is something of a modern-day economic Robin Hood. He believes the government should very aggressively tax the rich and give to the poor. As evidence, he presents the United States of the 1950s and 1960s, prosperous yet egalitarian. Krugman is an economist by trade, and few economists hold truly liberal views. I was interested in a well-reasoned, well-supported argument for his views. I didn't find it.

    Krugman does get points for being the first person I've ever heard use the term "Welfare State" positively. (I'm serious, by the way, that's a great way to shock a reader out of a pre-conceived notion) However, problems abound with Krugman's pro-welfare state arguments.

    First, Krugman calls Social Security the "crown jewel" of the New Deal. Social Security is sadly a bankrupt pyramid scheme from which almost nobody under the age of 40 ever expects to receive a penny after paying into it for their entire working life. That's one pathetic crown jewel.

    Second, Krugman assumes without explanation that an income gap (the difference in income between rich and poor) is a bad thing, but why? I'm open to the idea, but it needs explaining since there are credible arguments against this view. Consider: if the "poor" earn $10 a day and the "rich" earn $50, then the difference is only $40. All right. But let's say everyone gets five times wealthier. Now the "poor" earn $50 and the "rich" earn $250. That seems great. The "poor" today have as much income as the "rich" yesterday - everyone is wealthier. But look at that income gap! Now it's $200! Is that bad? I'm not so sure, and while Krugman talks about a higher percentage of wealth going to a small group, he makes no attempt to explain why an income gap is inherently negative.

    Third, Krugman is a proponent of taxing the "rich" at rates of 70% and up to pay for the welfare state. He never addresses the moral question of taking (literally with the threat of imprisonment at gunpoint) three quarters of what a private citizen works for in order to give to others. The "rich" today pay more than half of their income to the government for federal, state and local taxes. Ask yourself how much is morally defensible. By what right do we help ourselves to the money people earn? I'd be genuinely curious to hear Krugman's thoughts. He never brings it up.

    Fourth, the book is unreasonably stilted. Of course Krugman leans liberal, he's disclosed that in the title, but there are limits. At one point, he states that Congress passed an amendment so that the "income tax couldn't be declared unconstitutional again." Sounds crazy to hear that right-wing fanatics could have had the income tax declared unconstitutional doesn't it? Except that an income tax was clearly forbidden by the Constitution until that amendment was passed making it legal. It's an important point he tries to make the reader believe isn't true.

    There are further specific problems, but you get the point. Krugman keeps referring to other "advanced" nations that all have a more developed welfare state than the US. Krugman always refers to that as an indictment of the US, but overwhelmingly, countries with large welfare programs (including Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and others) have economies that grow at a fraction of the pace of the US economy despite having the advantage of being smaller than our economy and consequently easier to grow. Countries like the United Kingdom and New Zealand have had to completely revamp their economies and government policies after Welfare State policies nearly bankrupt the countries. Krugman skips over that too.

    So why the second star?

    Krugman introduces one insight that seems very plausible that I'd never heard before, and that's always worthy of an extra star. Krugman asks why the US doesn't tend to redistribute wealth as much as the other "advanced" nations. He cites a study by three Harvard economists which concludes that because the poor of the US are frequently of a different race from the wealthy, it's easier to mount a political movement against redistribution. That's a really interesting and potentially penetrating insight in a book that was unfortunately lacking in them.

    In the end, Krugman just glosses over far too many obvious and major concerns with his policy recommendations. It's not asking too much for him address the most fundamental arguments in opposition to his own and he never even tries. Not recommended for readers looking for a reasonable explanation of the liberal viewpoint....more info
  • Every Progresssive Should Read This Book
    A wonderful, easy-to-read book documenting the rise of modern Conservatism that has led to our current plight as a nation culminating with a call for Universal Healthcare, especially a single-payer system....more info
  • Good read
    Krugman discourses on how the aftermath of the Stock Market Crash of 1929- which ended what he calls the Long Gilded Age, of the 1870s thru 1920s, impacted Americans via the Great Depression, which saw the rise of Liberalism, through what he calls the Great Compression, after the Second World War, when higher tax rates and governmental policies squeezed incomes from top and bottom, creating a more egalitarian and stronger economy- and one that has yet to be equaled. Krugman posits that the post-war economic boom, and the rise of the suburban middle class (using the example of Levittown), was not a result of the free market, which he rightly acknowledges ended, for all intents and purposes, with the Great Depression, but with direct government intervention. He then charts the rise of Movement Conservatism's early and naked biases, how it learnt its lessons, and emerged to wage a stealth politics of class division (which they often accuse their counterparts on the Left of doing) to seize power, and begin a decades long assault on social gains instituted by the New Deal of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Krugman also details how they overplayed their hand, and why he feels the 2006 election was a turning point back to more Liberal control of national politics, or, at the very least, a return to 1950s and 1960s moderation of the two major political parties, when, Krugman quotes President Eisenhower, on the radical Right Wing, who wanted to dismantle the New Deal, abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm subsidies, as their `number is negligible and they are stupid.' The President was wrong on their size, and he shows how and why they let the accordion expand again, economically, undoing the Great Compression, and bringing on the income stagnation of recent decades. Krugman cleverly shows that in no other period of American history was there even an argument over whether a younger generation would do better than an older one. The very fact that there is debate is proof of the poor policies of Right Wing agenda-driven governance.

    While he does not come right out and state it, Krugman fairly convincingly shows that Adam Smith's mythic Invisible Hand is just that- mythic and invisible, but invisible because it's nonexistent. In this, he is clearly a Keynesian. But, even the current Bush Administration embraces its own interventionism in matters economic. The question of Keynesian triumph is settled- only the details of when, why, and where to apply it is left to battle over by Left and Right. With that as a given, Krugman then details that Liberals, when they get power, can best keep it by finishing what the New Deal started, for Krugman also blames the failed promise of the New Deal as its ultimate undoing. The cornerstone to this plan is to make national heath insurance the centerpiece of the Newer Deal.
    Krugman's only misstep, philosophically, is when he tries to argue that Ralph Nader was wrong, in 2000, when he said there was little difference between the two parties. Krugman denies this, stating, `There hasn't been any corresponding radicalization of the Democratic Party, so the right-wing takeover of the G.O.P. is the underlying cause of today's bitter partisanship,' and uses his whole thesis over decades as proof. Unfortunately, this is one of the occasions where a long view is the wrong view, because Nader was talking specifically about recent events, and the two major candidates, as well as a broad slate, not just a narrow domestic agenda. In fact, the whole capitulation of the Democratic Party to fall in lockstep behind President Bush on the march to war with Iraq, as well as that of the oft-demonized Liberal Media (including, most infamously, Krugman's newspaper employer), showed just how right Nader was- at least pre-Barack Obama, as well as convincingly showing the claim of a Liberal Media to be bogus. The modern Democratic Party is not the `party of ideas' that Krugman claims, but the party of the idealess and spineless. And while Krugman is correct about the lack of radicalization of the Democratic Party, he overlooks their lobotomization. Well, not quite. While he never details it and names it as such, he does give a number of examples of it, including quoting FDR's famed speech, in 1936, just before the election, where he rails against the malefactors of wealth who hate him, and that he welcomes their hatred. Krugman, in effect, notes the tree, but not the forest, when he acknowledges that no Democratic politician today would ever state such so boldly, for they would not want to be even accused of the class warfare the Right Wing relishes in undertaking. Say what you will about Newt Gingrich, but he was filled with ideas. Most were bad and fundamentally deleterious to the American Dream, but he and his kind churned them out. In short, the reason Democrats lose elections is because they lost their soul. The Republicans may well be evil (rhetorically speaking), but the Democrats have been nihil- an utter black hole. Voters, faced with a choice, will always choose something over nothing- even a bad something.

    Thus, while I agree with most of the book's premises, and acknowledge the historical verity of the facts and claims, it does take two to watusi, and the fact that Krugman places almost no blame on the Democrats for caving in on questions of economics, race baiting, voter fraud and suppression, nor a litany of other areas where they willingly ceded ground to Republicans, the book is sort of a social and economic incompleteness theorem. Whether or not this is so do to willful forest watching or the very timidity of the Democratic Party recapitulated within Krugman (whose columns, it should be noted, have much more bite), is debatable. But, simply because the problem may not be totally dealt with does not mean the conclusions drawn are wrong. They are mostly correct, and conveyed with an ease that non-economists will be drawn to. The Conscience Of A Liberal is not a book that will be read in fifty years, as a seminal work, but it is a very good explication of the last fifty years, and then some. It does deserve a good reading....more info
  • The Conscience of a Liberal, by Paul Krugman
    A liberal's answer to Barry Goldwater's "A Conscience of a Conservative". Krugman provide not only his rationale for his liberal conscience in today's political setting but provides an historical prospective beginning with the
    New Deal of the 30's. And overriding theme for today's ills is the growing income gap between the rich and the lower- and middle -classes which Krugman views as weakening our democratic form of government....more info
  • Another masterpiece from one of the best mind of our time
    As a Chinese in Hong Kong, I am ignorant of the politics in US and the reason why the Bush Administration and the Republicans still enjoy that high popularity despite the many menaces local and worldwide. However, this book gave me a glimpse of that, with a historical perspective, and provided some straightforward solutions to the current economic and social inequalities, an indirect alleviation to the global financial meltdown. Dont know whether the Obama Administration would take the author's advice. I hope so, and that the Americans will "wake up" from the hypnotization of the limited superrich's PR machine. Afterall, unlike the Chinese in PRC who suffer from similar, if not even worse inequalities, cannot vote a corrupted government down. The Americans should value their legitimate rights. No matter what, it is by all means a great book though it talked much more on politics than the author's previous masterpieces. Highly recommended!

    p.s. This book reminded me of two sayings below: "No matter if it is a white cat or a black cat; as long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat" by Deng Xiaoping and "How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four; calling a tail a leg doesnt make it a leg" by Abraham Lincoln. ...more info
  • A Way Forward
    Krugman takes the reader on a succinct and readable journey through of US economic history beginning from about 1900 up to the present. His focus is how the average (or more precisely median) worker has fared. Krugman recounts the great economic inequality in the pre-Great Depression era and demonstrates that nearly identical levels of inequality have returned.

    Krugman's primary argument is that US government policies and actions can be used to reduce economic inequality and that it did so in response to the Great Depression, through World War Two and beyond. He calls this era the Great Compression when the average CEO of a large company made about 30 times the income of an average worker rather than today's multiplier of 300. He further argues that conservative political forces used Nixon's Southern strategy to divide workers and attain power. Once there, these forces applied Friedman economics (and some made-up economics like the `supply-side' craze) to government policies, declared war on unions, and deregulated across the board. Krugman presciently argued that the Republicans' politics of racial division were nearing the end of the road as the demographics of the US changed.

    Krugman expected the recent victory by a progressive Democrat in 2008. He sets forth several fairly specific policy recommendations for progressives (liberals who do things): universal health insurance, a more progressive tax structure, increase the minimum wage, and make union organizing easier. Part of his argument for giving priority to universal health insurance is that it will demonstrate that the government can indeed institute policies that make a person's life better. After several decades of anti-government rhetoric, such a demonstration is necessary.

    Krugman's prescriptions are not a complete progressive agenda - he barely touches on the environment - but if President Obama and Congress institute Krugman's ideas in the economic realm we will have a fairer society where the benefits of economic activity are more equitably shared. My personal feeling is they should act aggressively and swiftly on multiple fronts before the GOP has recovered its footing and to occupy the inevitable political counterattack busy with many challenges at once.
    ...more info
  • Krugman Liberal Views
    This book is a good read, but to many would appear to be just a very long version of many an article Mr. Krugman has written for the New York Times. If you like his op-eds, you will likely be a fan of the book. If you are less enthused by his writings, this is probably not the book for you....more info
  • A must read!
    Bought this book after hearing a Commonwealth Club lecture from Paul Krugman on NPR and thoroughly enjoyed it. Mr. Krugman writing style makes the economic and political material he covers very easy to follow and understand. This book should be mandatory reading for all Democratic members of congress and included in the curriculum of all political science courses. A must read for anyone who considers them self to be an informed citizen and voter. ...more info
  • Viewpoint from a Libertarian
    A very thought provoking book. He makes some very interesting arguments, even convinced me on some (esp the issue of national health care). The discussions are very relevant to the issues facing us politically at this moment. I think everyone should read this book, Conservatives and Liberals alike.

    However, I was disappointed by the lack of backup to some of his arguments. I was longing to see more support in the way of data, graphs, etc. There was very little of this in the book. Like many economists, he tends to assume some points as given, and uses these as a spring board for a further discussion. In some areas (esp the assumption that Medicare was a efficient and effective program), I found this logic to be a stretch. But overall, I thought it was well worth reading. ...more info
  • Coherent, well-argued and highly partisan view of America
    I am a conservative. I believe, however, in reading what the other side has to say, both to anticipate their lines of attack, and to see if they are right about anything. On both grounds, this is a book very much worth reading.

    Krugman paints a simple picture, in big, bold colors. Before Franklin Roosevelt became President, America was no good. We were a highly unequal country, run by and for the rich, who ground the poor into the dirt. But then the never-too-much-to-be-praised Saint FDR came along and everything changed. The New Deal miraculously cured the Great Depression. But not just that. It also destroyed inequality. It made us into a mass middle class nation, by carpet bombing the rich with high taxes and elevating the poor into middle class status with marvelous new policies such as Social Security and favoring unions. As a result, the America of the 1950s, in which Krugman grew up, was a Golden Age, in which there were no great inequalities of wealth and everyone was happy. The two political parties fought, but their fighting was not serious; Krugman acknowledges that Republicans like Eisenhower were basically just mild forms of Democrats.

    But, alas, not everyone had the wisdom to accept the glorious happiness of What Franklin Had Wrought. There was a bitter minority of evil lunatics, who wanted to turn the clock back to the bad old days in which the rich ruled and the poor were frightfully oppressed. During the Glory Years of the 1950s this demented minority was viewed as nuts, even by Republican leaders. But, alas, starting with the Franco-loving, civil rights-hating Bill Buckley, this minority hatched a grand conspiracy against the happiness of the people.

    How did this evil little minority, whose program hurts almost everyone, manage to take over this country? By crassly appealing to the racism of Southern whites, who could be persuaded to vote for the Evil Rich, as long as the Evil Rich promised to restore Jim Crow (or as close to that as might be managed). And the GOP also learned how to deceive the gullible multitude with a host of twisted evil lies, such as saying that liberals were weak on national defense, caused crime to rise by not punishing criminals and other laughably absurd stories which all good educated people know to be false, but, which, alas, those dumb Southerners and other foolish white folk were deceived into believing. The good Democrats did not change at all, but the GOP went hard right. As a result, the work of Saint Franklin was undone. Inequality was once more set loose in the land. The rich became richer, the poor did not and, once again, America was no good. (If anybody thinks that I am making fun of Krugman, or overstating this, read the book. I am not making any of this up. I am not even really changing his tone much, except that Krugman -- as a good liberal -- would never use religious language. He basically thinks in religious terms, however, so it is hard to summarize his thinking without using that language.)

    But, not to fear, as racism fades, so does the GOP, whose power is completely built on exploiting white racism. Thus, the troops of Saint Franklin can once again rally and permanently annihilate the satanic right wing and its evil ways.

    That is the historical argument of the book. Krugman then goes on to give a lucid and powerful argument in favor of universal health care, followed by a rousing endorsement of soak-the-rich taxation and why-can't-we-be-more-like France argument. All in all, it is an impressively coherent statement of most features of the overall liberal mindset. The main subjects missing from the argument are any serious discussions of foreign policy or values issues. Krugman assumes, and says, that conservatives are war-mongers for their foreign policy and bigots for their social values, but he does not discuss either set of issues except in passing.

    OK, how do I, as a conservative, react, to such a comprehensive barrage of hyper-partisan liberal thinking?

    First, I have to congratulate Krugman for his honesty. Most liberals, for decades, have run away from the "liberal" label. Krugman refuses to cower and hide. This is what he believes, and he is not afraid to say so. I respect that. We will get further in our national discourse if we start out being honest about our positions. Krugman is very honest about his positions.

    Second,it is kind of ironic, in view of the way liberals frequently attack conservatives as too simplistic in their views, but Krugman's view of American history is so simplistic as to border on fantasy. He sees nothing of value in our pre-FDR history. He wildly over-states FDR's achievements. As Krugman well knows, the actual New Deal, the one which FDR pursued, did NOT end the Great Depression, which lasted from 1929 until the Second World War. The actual New Deal was a total flop, at the time.

    Yes, Social Security was a good idea, which has worked out well, by and large. Yes, the FDIC was a good idea, which has worked out well, by and large. Yes, the SEC was a good idea, which has worked out pretty well, its recent dismal performance notwithstanding. Many of FDR's ideas were good, and very few of us on the right want to reverse all of them, particularly those I just listed. BUT none of these things ended the Great Depression. To assert the contrary is simple nonsense. Krugman makes no effort to distinguish between FDR's good ideas, like the FDIC, and FDR's lousy ideas, like wage and price controls. Fifty years after FDR, you would think we could begin to have a measured assessment of the man, in which we acknowledge his achievements but also admit his failures. Not Krugman. To him, FDR is a secular saint and a battle flag to be waved endlessly in parades.

    And, yes, America emerged from World War Two with a very strong economy. But lets be real, here. We had just bombed most rival industrial nations into oblivion. With Japan and Germany in smoking ruins, with the US in possession of the only modern industrial economy in the world which had not been hit with an aerial bombing campaign, it would have been kind of hard for the US not to do pretty well post-WWII. We were the only game in town, for quite some time. If this is how you want to argue, then FDR's primary significance is as the war leader who lead us a pre-eminent world economic position, based in large part upon conquering our rivals.

    Third, Krugman's idealization of the 1950s is weird, and it provides a key to one of the larger errors in Krugman's thinking. Krugman, after all, is a 1960s baby bomber. As he says, he marched against the Vietnam War. He was, in short, of the generation which loathed the 1950s, endlessly mocked its conformity and lack of hipness and rebelled flamboyantly against everything for which the 1950s stood. But Krugman acknowledges none of that. He can not see that the 1960s rebelled against the 1950s. Instead, he thinks that America stayed just the same, from Eisenhower until Gerald Ford, until that evil lunatic Reagan came along. Krugman argues says the Democrats did not move to the left, between Adlai Stevenson and today. Instead, he says that the only change in American politics was the GOP's evil lurch to the right.

    This argument is simply wrong, as a factual matter. Look at all of the changes which the 1960s wrought, and which the Democrats fully endorsed. Black civil rights. Feminism. The Sexual Revolution. Environmentalism. We went from having abortions be an illegal and shameful crime to being a national civil right. We went from a culture in which having divorce caused huge levels of stigma to a culture saturated with sexual images and in which the only argument left over family structure -- now that everything else is OK -- is over gay marriage.

    You can be for all of this, you can be against it, or you can take an in between position. But one thing you cannot do, with any intellectual honesty, is to deny the magnitude of these changes. But that is what Krugman does. He just serenely asserts that Democrats such as Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy were no different than Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi. That is absurd. The Democrats went way, way, way to the left, in the all of the ways I just ticked off above, plus on foreign policy. Again, you can like this, or not like it, but it is true.

    And this is what brought the modern right into power. Reagan rode into power, on the tidal wave of opposition to all of these changes. Again, you can like it or dislike it, but what brought Reagan to power was the wave of popular opposition to everything that the 1960s represented.

    Krugman likes to present himself as a middle of the road, concensus thinker. He does this by confusing the 1950s and the 1960s. He presents an idealized picture of the 1950s, as a time of total agreement, in which the right wing was marginal. He then just waves his hands and says that everything that has happened since the 1960s is part of the 1950s concensus, we all agree, and anyone who does not agree is to be thrown ouit of American politics.

    By using this bait and switch technique, baiting you with a nostalgic view of the 1950s but then switching to 1960s thinking, Krugman seeks to make conservatives utterly illegitimate. He is using profound intellectual dishonesty as a way to justify total intolerance. In his world, you do not talk to conservatives. You do not engage with their ideas. Instead, you demonize them.

    I am a conservative. I have just, I believe, accurately summarized his arguments, and given a reasonable response to them. I do that, because I believe in reason. I believe in rational discourse.

    Krugman pretends to be rational, but there are sharp limits to his rationality. He would NEVER treat a conservative thinker the way that I just treated him. He is not able to summarize conservative thought accurately. He is not able to rationally assess our beliefs.

    Instead, his approach to us is one of total intolerance and hate. In Krugman's world, a man like Bill Buckley can never be a sincere person, with whom he happens to disagree. Instead, he has to be a bigot, a racist, a fascist. He has to be attacked, on a very personal level.

    I respect Krugman's intelligence. I respect his learning. I do not respect his intolerance and his hatred. I find it appalling that a university professor would be as close-minded as he is. His attitude is not one of intellectual engagement; his attitude is one of Holy War. He is a scary guy; he really does want to drive all conservatives out of public life and to end discussion of conservative ideas. We on the right need to take this aspect of liberal thought seriously; these guys are very serious about wanting to destroy all diversity of thought in this country. I do not think they will be successful in this effort, but, as people like Krugman show, they plan to give it a jolly good try. (And please notice that, unlike a liberal, I do not, at this point, call Krugman a Nazis. He is an intolerant and hate-filled man, whose commitment to free speech is minimal, but I am well aware of the many differences between his point of view and that of Hitler. And besides the whole Nazis motif has gotten REALLY worn out and tired.)

    On a different note, I think that Krugman makes a very good argument for universal health care. The current system is absurdly expensive, and over-run with administrative inefficiency. One of George W. Bush's bigger mistakes, in my view, was doing nothing about this issue while the GOP had power. This issue is not going to away, until somebody fixes it. The GOP had its chance, and we blew it by doing nothing. The Dems now have their chance, and it is highly likely that they are going to win on this one.

    Which might not be a bad thing. The current system really is a huge mess. I would prefer a reasonable, free market answer, but, hey, nobody is pushing for one very hard. Maybe whatever Obama does might be an improvement on the current fiasco. We will see. ...more info
  • "Movement Conservative" Expose
    The title of this book is the antithesis of "The Conscience of a Conservative," the book penned by Barry Goldwater. I think another title would encourage a broader spectrum of readers, but the author's point is to discredit "movement conservative," to thrash it into the ground. Krugman seems to hold nothing back in his scorn for "movement conservative," which he feels has been the basis for the extreme polarization of the political parties of late. He thrives on the comparisons between conservatives and liberals. That is the point of his book.

    With "movement conservative" potentially crushed in the 2008 elections (which he could not foresee with certainty in his book written in 2007), and if the new liberal government goes on to perform well in a new New Deal effort, the result will be a renewal of our two-party system that keeps the other side "honest," but does not demand domination over decades, per Krugman.
    The book flows well and is highly efficient in telling its story. The details are there, and the principals in the story are brought to life with credible simplicity. Presidents, for example:
    FDR: "FDR's mission in office was to show that government activism works....And he did." "FDR's success gave liberal intellectuals credibility and prestige...."
    Truman: "In 1946, Truman proposed a system of national health insurance that would have created a single-payer system." "(His) bid failed in the face of opposition from two critical groups: The American Medical Association and Southern whites."
    Eisenhower: "...taxes on corporations and the rich were even higher during the Eisenhower years than they had been under FDR." "...he preached `moderation,' and considered those who wanted to roll back the New Deal "stupid." "...Eisenhower's `modern' Republicans took control of their party...."
    Nixon: "...Nixon governed like a liberal in many ways: He indexed Social Security for inflation...expanded government regulation of workplace safety and the environment, and even tried to introduce universal health insurance." "Nixon was a transitional figure....For Nixon it was all personal." "...he did not share the conservative movement's hatred for government intervention and the welfare state." "...he was a pragmatist, rather than an ideologue." "(But he) showed how the dark side of America...above all, race, could be used to win elections."
    Reagan: "Ronald Reagan... ran for Governor of California in part on a promise to repeal the state's fair housing act." "The youth rebellion (of the 60's) frightened and infuriated many Americans - Ronald Reagan in particular." "(He) was able to signal sympathy for racism without every saying anything overtly racist." "(He) tried and failed to slash Social Security benefits." "Reagan taught the movement (conservative) how to clothe elitist economic ideas in populist rhetoric."
    Clinton: "Clinton famously tried to introduce a form of universal health care - and completely failed." A major reason for his failure was that he did not get started on the issue soon enough. He was preoccupied with budget issues. He simply was not ready with the details of his health care plan. His campaign had not gotten into any specifics. "...Bill Clinton never had a well-defined agenda. In a fundamental sense, he didn't know what he was supposed to do....and he didn't build a movement."
    George W. Bush: "(In 2004), the nation rallied around George Bush, as he promised to punish the `evildoers' responsible for 9/11 and bring in Osama dead or alive." "We may never know why his administration wanted that war so badly." "...the war worked to Bush's advantage for a surprisingly long time." "Without that purge (in Florida of voters identified as felons), George W. Bush would not
    have made it to the White House."

    The thesis of the book includes the argument that "movement conservatism has been antidemocratic, with an attraction to authoritarianism, from the beginning." Krugman says that "conservatives insist that those in power have the right to do as they please." Walking a bit of a thin line here, he goes on to say that "The only way a progressive agenda can be enacted is if Democrats have both the presidency and a large enough majority in Congress to overcome Republican opposition." (And do as they please?) What may be missing here, is an analysis of how that mentality led to the downfall of the Bush administration and the Republican right after the 2004 election?

    Another element of his thesis is that the benefits of the post-WWII boom came to the end in the `70's, with the economic crisis brought on by rising inflation and high oil prices. What has followed has been a rapid "concentration of income in the hands of a small minority." And once the funding was combined with the political leadership, the "vast right-wing conspiracy" was born, "as we know today."

    Krugman sees health care as the primary issue for a new liberal administration. He argues that the moral case for universal health care isn't in dispute and that "Health care reform is the natural centerpiece of a new New Deal." He provides comparisons of the current U.S. system vs. nations with universal care to reach his conclusion that "We're off the charts in terms of what we pay for care, but only in the middle of the pack in terms of what we get for our money." This is a good chapter, full of all kinds of statistics and insights, including that Medicare was signed by President Johnson "less than nine months after his victory in the 1964 election." "Thus, it's a very good thing that health care reform has become a central issue in the current presidential campaign." He adds that universal health care is not a revolutionary or radical idea today and that there are many examples to follow that are well-tested. And back to real politics, "Getting universal care should be the key domestic priority for modern liberals."
    Although it is not talked about it much in the book, I'd think that immigration reform would be another priority for "modern liberals," both for real politic and for humanitarian and other reasons. Krugman notes that "immigration is a deeply divisive issue for the for the coalition that supports movement conservative....(and) The obvious reality that an important wing of the Republican Party is bitterly anti-immigrant pushes non-white immigrants into the arms of the Democratic Party. " And, "Republicans have sought to contain this problem by keeping immigrants and their descendants disenfranchises as long as possible."
    There is much more in this excellent book, and most of it is full of witty insight, e.g., "an obsession with other people's sexual lives has been an enduring factor in movement conservatism - a key source of the movement's, um, passion." And, "Movement conservatism...found a mass popular base by finding ways to appeal to two grassroots sentiments: white backlash and paranoia about communism." And: Ronald Reagan's 1966 California campaign marked the first great electoral success for movement conservative. And one more: "...both long term trends in American society and recent events have damaged the ability of movement conservatives to change the subject, to mask the reality that they are on the side of the privileged...."
    In summary, if you consider yourself a "liberal," you will probably love this book and find all kinds of reinforcement for your base positions. If you consider yourself a "conservative," you will most likely not read the book. But if Krugman turns out to be right, the difference between the two parties will cease to be as extreme as they have been, assuming that the Obama administration is successful operationally in its legislation and in making the collective good the primary goal once more.
    At that point, someone can write the book, "The Conscience of a Centrist." Seems like a nice thought to me.

    ...more info
  • The Conscience of a Liberal
    This is a well-written and entertaining piece as are all of Paul Krugman's works. He hits the nail on the head in all cases, and enlightens, and inspires. ...more info
  • Important Message but Nothing Really New
    I'm a big fan of Paul Krugman and my views about good government closely mirror his own however I may have read one too many books by writers with similar ideologies because there was very little new for me in this book. His one big idea is that many of the political decisions made in the last 60 years ago are based around race. For instance he argues that the reason that the United States doesn't have universal healthcare is because southern politicians (correctly) believed it would have forced the region to racially integrate their hospitals. Republicans have successfully leveraged the racial fears of southern whites to create a powerful voting block but as the U.S. becomes less white and whites become less apt to shiver at racial scare tactics, the Republican's may find this blunt tool has become a heavy anchor (see George Allen).

    The core of the book is something that Paul Krugman has been harping on for years; that the gap between the rich and poor has increased to levels not seen since America's Gilded Age and the growing disparity shows no sign of abating. Krugman writes, "Money buys influence, and as the richest few percent of American's have grown richer... they have become rich enough to buy themselves a party" (some might argue two parties). So what we have is a feedback loop. The wealthy can buy influence, to gain votes, to allow them to grow wealthier and buy more influence. It is a huge threat to democracy but as the writer states, `From the beginning... the [conservative] movement was profoundly undemocratic, concerned, above all, with defending religion and property'. Krugman's point is that left to its own devices our economy will continue to inexorably swing towards the wealthy unless government intervenes.

    Krugman is your classic liberal economist standing opposed to the Darwinian winner takes all economic philosophies of pure free market capitalism. Despite George W. Bush's attempt to demonstrate just how corrupt and incompetent the federal government can be, Krugman's still holds the faith that harnessing the power of a nation of over 300 million people can achieve great things and only through government intervention can inequities be managed. The author refers to the current strain of Conservativism as movement conservativism to differentiate it from classic conservativism. The difference is that movement conservatism is a new strain of radicalism that desires to tear down the system, the system being the welfare state that has been in place for the past 60 years.

    It's not that I disagree at all with what Krugman is saying. It's that I've heard it all before. I already realize that the fuel of the Republican Party is cronyism. I'm aware of the very real `right wing conspiracy' and how it has created an interlocking set of partisan institutions. I know that CEO salaries are skyrocketing while middle class incomes have stagnated for over a decade. Regardless of how much I may agree with his ideas I have to remove one star for lack of originality. Others who are less voracious readers of liberal politics may find this book more enlightening but for me it was just a rehash. Still, Paul Krugman is an important voice and I hope his message is heard....more info
  • Nice Work
    I recommend this book to liberals. For conservatives, I recommend the info on income distribution, particularly pages 124-136, and the chapter on health care. To be critical, and hopefully useful, I lament the following: 1) saying hyperinflation just kind of happened from 1965 to the `80's isn't good enough for an economist. Were higher wages a factor? Please explain. 2) Married couples are working about 1,000 hours more today than in 1976. Why isn't this mentioned? 3) Are we more in debt today than in 1973? This info would have been interesting. 4) Why begin the recent period in 1973, if arguing that conservative politics changed the economy for the worse? Isn't 1980 a genuine (not convenient or reverse engineered) starting point? 5) The author capitulates to conservatives by using the term "welfare state" Has welfare ever been more than 4% of GDP (not including Social Security)? "The welfare state" is propaganda and plays into the hands of Reagan Republicans. 6) Perhaps ten times, Mr. Krugman says general negative statements about conservatives. This is both preaching to the choir and the pot (liberal establishment) calling the kettle black, and harms our chances of gaining support from independents and moderate conservatives.

    Overall, a very useful and readable book. I could say a hundred positive things. Better the book should be read.
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  • Could Have Been Titled, "What Happened to the Middle Class in America?"
    Krugman is a fascinating writer and not just an economist and he writes a virtual social history of where the country has gone economically since the great depression to where we are today. Quite honestly, a difficult book for a conservative Republican to read but Krugman demonstrates through easy to follow numbers and graphs how the wide separation between the affluent and the middle class has again reached the same levels that existed before the great depression. He refers to the post WWII period as the Great Compression where taxes on the rich were high, unions strong and government was infusing the economy with massive spending during WWII. He more or less argues that FDR was on the right track, as opposed to Hoover, but didn't go far enough. Further, he writes that politicians had a certain cohesiveness that was effective up through the Eisenhower period that began to separate with Goldwater in the mid 60s and the rise of Reagan and the extreme conservative wing of the party. This part will sting Republicans as Krugman describes their southern strategy and tax breaks on the highest income earning in the US that is quite a contrast to the depression and post depression period along with the breaking of unions. Krugman features a fascinating chapter on health insurance and explains that private health insurance spends too much time restricting people from membership and treatment while being top heavy in administrative costs. Whatever your party line, an insightful book that should be read by all and you can debate his positions but he makes very good points. The only drawback that I could see, was what would be in his view a reasonable tax level. Obviously, higher taxes on large estates and the highest incomes but at what formula? Everyone wants to get ahead and keep a reasonable amount of their hard earned change. I am sure he agrees to that but what would be reasonable in his mind? Very good reading and he makes some excellent points with a bit of a bite, such as his explanation for Gingrich's over response to the Lewinsky matter culminating as revenge for Clinton defeating him earlier on Medicare cut backs....more info
  • The Conscience of a Liberal
    After Paul Krugman received the Nobel Prize in economics, I bought the only Krugman book the local book store had on the shelf. Unfortunately, "The Conscience of a Liberal" was the wrong choice to fully inform a person on Krugman's economic theories. It is a political commentary with an economics flavor.

    The book will change the politics of very few people. Krugman draws a deliberate line in the sand and for the most part stays well to the left of it. There are some exceptions. He builds such a strong foundation for his position on health care that only a minority of Americans will not join him. Who among us does not believe that the strength of our nation improves if our children grow up healthy, if fewer people suffer disability, or that money spent on preventing illness and disease means overall savings in health cost. Krugman lays out a strong case that the United States is one of the weaker nations in the industrial world when it comes to health care. The chapter on health care is even more noteworthy today than when written.

    The copyright of my copy is 2007 but, except for the section on health care, much of the book is already dated. In fact, the 2008 election goes a long way toward confirming many of Krugman's assertions.

    This book introduced me to a new term; movement conservatism; and although it plays a large part in the book, I am still not sure how to define it. Although the book doesn't specifically define the phrase, readers will finish the book feeling that they have a good intuitive grasp of the meaning.

    Since the Eisenhower years, Krugman believes that movement conservatism has systematically used a variety of means to gain and maintain political power. Movement conservatives have employed racial division as a fundamental tool and the Republican ascendency in the past half century is directly a result of using race to turn southern white voters from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. The conservative establishment uses the media to disguise their motives and to maintain control over public opinion. In addition to race; they invoke religion, moral values, and national security when convenient. Vote suppression, either indirectly or through outright fraud, has occurred.

    Movement conservatives distrust the public and democracy. They place great weight on money and big business. Power and political control are even more important. Democratic institutions and the public good, popularly referred to as Progressive policies, are the converse of movement conservatism. Krugman favors a strong middle class with a much narrower margin between the general public and the super-rich than exists today. Much of the present non-American industrialized world, as well as the American period extending from FDR's final years into the Eisenhower presidency, is much closer to this ideal than is America today.

    Krugman sees the conservative influence in American politics as waxing and waning. It peaked in the early twentieth century. It fell out of favor following the Great Depression and during the FDR years. It roared back into power after Ronald Reagan was elected and peaked as Republicans steamrolled through Congress in the Gingrich years. He thinks that the movement may now be waning again.

    Immigration is a factor that movement conservatives used to their advantage for a time but that has since become a divisive issue for the Republican Party. Big business favors immigration that brings them cheap labor while lower-class whites in the country's midsection are distrustful of immigration. Further, immigration is causing a decrease in the percentage of white, non-Hispanic Americans. At the same time, polls show that white, non-Hispanic Americans are growing more tolerant of minorities.

    Krugman feels that within a democracy, movement conservatism contains the seeds of its own destruction. The Republicans, with guidance from the movement conservatives, have somehow adopted the traditional liberal stance of striving to change the status quo. They want to change long-established institutions such as Social Security, unemployment insurance, strong unions, and many First Amendment rights. Since this works against the interests of the majority of voters, the electorate becomes enlightened and turns against the conservatives. He points to the 2004 and 2006 elections as indications that this may be happening. I am sure that he would now add the 2008 election as a near fatal blow, at least for the present.
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  • Excellent book by Paul Krugman. I fully recommend it!
    This will help you understand and make sense of what is happening today by giving the political, economical & social history of the United States during the last 70-80 years. I could not put this book down after reading the first page. A great quality of Krugman's style is that he avoids the use of technical jargon and complicated language. His writing style and his way of explaining the difficult topics covered are crystal clear. ...more info
  • Dishonoring the greatest liberal of our time
    I am absolutely in complete shock that Mr. Krugman decided to use the title of the book from the late great senator Paul Wellstone. Particularly the fact that the senator has since passed away and that The Conscience of a Liberal is part of his legacy shows a lack of respect, intelligence and originality. I had to stop in the bookstore and take a second look because I couldn't believe that anybody within liberal circles would have the audacity to do something so tacky and self serving. Shame on you Mr. Krugman. I hope others boycott this book and choose to read the real Conscience of a Liberal. ...more info


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