TPM Cafe Book Club Discussion on James Galbraith’s The Predator State

Images Over at TPM Cafe, a discussion of James Galbraith’s The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too Discussants include James Galbraith, Sidney Blumenthal, Maggie Mahar, Michael Lind, Susan Feher, Thomas Palley, Max Sawicky, and Jonathan Taplin. Round 2 responses in the debate can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here. James Galbraith:

The book originated, in part, as a challenge from my father, delivered in our last conversation, on Wednesday, April 26, 2006 in his room at Mount Auburn hospital. Dad seemed, at the time, to be recovering (slightly) from a bout of pneumonia, and had the energy to ask what I was working on. I told him of some recent lectures on predation. “You should write a short book on corporate predation,” he said. “It will make you the leading economic voice of your generation.” And then he added his typically modest, typically paternal touch, “If I could do it, I would put you in the shade.”

But of course the ideas for the book had been germinating a long time. I came of age, politically, during the Reagan wars of the early 1980s. I was, then as now, a liberal Keynesian, educated at Kaldor’s Cambridge and Tobin’s Yale, but not yet thirty and very much on the losing side. By the late 90s, very few people even knew about the economics I was brought up on. I felt a bit like the last survivor of a Papuan tribe.

There is a tendency, seen in Jonathan Chait’s book The Big Con and Paul Krugman’s Conscience of a Liberal – good books both, by the way – to treat the conservative revolution of the 1980s as a pure fraud – a con game – put over on a gullible public by the paid agents of corporate and plutocratic power. There is of course something to this story, but I never felt that it was the whole truth. As I got to know the free-market, supply-side crowd, the hard money, low-tax, Wall Street Journal deregulate-and-privatize team, I came rather to like them. I never thought they were right. Far from it: on matters of economic policy they were in my view mostly nuts. But I did think – and do think – that they held their views in good faith. They were, by and large, willing to argue the merits of their ideas. And they had behind them the authority of a vast academic establishment, ranging from Friedrich von Hayek to Milton Friedman to such contemporaries as Gary Becker and Robert Mundell – all just as nutty in my view. (For those who would be amused by it, my 1990 debate with Friedman on his TV show, “Free to Choose” can be found here. )

The academic economics of the 1970s lined up behind the right-wing politics of the 1980s for a reason.