Had quite a lot of interaction with Delong over the years and some of it entirely delightful, even enlightening. This though has tended to be on interesting technical points – are we measuring the consumer surplus correctly? (Answer, no) – than in areas that might have more political application. There there can be a reversion to a certain partisanship of viewpoint. To be mild about matters.
Could Keynes have saved us from economic disaster? Don’t count on it
J Bradford DeLong’s new book Slouching Towards Utopia is an impassioned defence of Keynesian theory – but he’s too blinkered to other views
Could be, could be.
History gets rewritten by its winners, they say, but not if J Bradford DeLong has anything to do with it. In Slouching Towards Utopia, the Berkeley economics professor is determined to take a victory lap for the failed interventionism of Keynesian economics. The book’s argument, made at length, boils down to: “if only you’d listened to the Keynesians, you’d have heaven on earth by now”. DeLong’s grand narrative is one long attempt to draw a line under the past, assign all its failings to the free market tradition, and claim the future for big state spenders.
This also makes a lot of sense. There’s – in one sense at least – a rather Whiggish view of history here. If history is that sweep to ever greater perfection, and we’re here top of the tree right now, then therefore having us top of the heap is greater perfection, right?
And perhaps DeLong is right, at least that there’s a market for such high-toned sneering. The last few decades have seen the rise of what Thomas Piketty, one of DeLong’s boosters, calls the Brahmin Left. This highly-educated class prefers a statist stability which protects its own privilege over the disruptive energies and unpredictable opportunities of the open market. It looks down on anyone who thinks differently, as over Brexit. And it increasingly occupies every major position of institutional power that isn’t subject to a vote. Our technocratic elite may well be keen to swallow DeLong’s partial analysis whole. To judge from some of the high-flown names quoted on the back, that process may have already begun.