As network news hosts chat up the idea of running Sen. Elizabeth Warren for president in 2020, the ultraliberal Harvard hero is out with a feisty new campaign book titled This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class. So The New York Times found a reviewer...or just a gob-smacked fan? They let their own socialist professor/columnist Paul Krugman write a fan letter thinly disguised as a book review.
It began by hailing activist professors (now there’s an unexpected twist...)
These days, one often hears laments that academia has become too insular, that scholars aren’t willing to participate in the hurly-burly of real-world debate. “Professors, we need you!” declared my New York Times colleague Nicholas Kristof, urging academics not to “cloister yourselves like medieval monks.”
It's fun to imagine someone doling out book-review assigments at the Gray Lady, "Let's get someone who doesn't have a rooting interest in Warren to review it...how about Krugman? Perfect." Back in 2011, Krugman also thought he was being measured when he wrote Warren was "not Jesus," but she shouldn't be attacked: "if a basically moderate, reasonable, well-intentioned person with such a good track record can be demonized, there is truly no hope for reform."
In his book review, Krugman asserts Warren is an "enlightened populist," which means socialist/populist, as opposed to Trump the capitalist/faux-populist:
Warren lays out a position I’d call enlightened populism. She rails against the growing concentration of income and wealth in the hands of a tiny elite; argues that this concentration of economic rewards has also undermined our political system; and links unequal wealth and power to the stagnating incomes, growing insecurity and diminishing opportunities facing ordinary families.
This is also Krugman's position. He has argued that the Republicans are at war with enlightenment. Krugman also complains that the Democrats now rely too much on market explanations for unsatisfactory outcomes, insisting socialist intervention works. Warren’s position is “all for taxing the rich and strengthening the safety net, but it also argues that public policy can do a lot to increase workers’ bargaining power — and that inequality has soared in large part because policy has, in fact, gone the other way.” This is the path to enlightenment:
This view has gained much more prominence over the past couple of decades, mainly because it’s now backed by a lot of evidence (which is why I call Warren’s populism “enlightened”). At the beginning of her book Warren talks about her frustration with politicians refusing to raise the minimum wage even though “study after study shows that there are no large adverse effects on jobs when the minimum wage goes up.” She’s right. Later, she writes about the adverse effects of the decline of unions; that, too, is a view supported by many studies, from such left-wing sources as, um, the International Monetary Fund.
So Warren in effect gives intervention in markets equal billing with taxes and social spending as a way to combat inequality, marking a significant move left in Democratic positioning.
Krugman thinks he’s being tough on Warren as he wraps up this review, by suggesting there are still a lot unenlightened bigots that are ruining the Socialist Future:
So This Fight Is Our Fight is a smart, tough-minded book. But is it an effective blueprint for progressive political revival? The evidence suggests that it’s incomplete.
Consider the case of West Virginia, where Obamacare cut the number of uninsured by about 60 percent, where minimum wage hikes and revived unions could do wonders for workers in health care and social services, the state’s largest industry. That is, it’s a perfect example of a state that would benefit hugely from an enlightened-populist agenda.
But last November West Virginia went almost three-to-one for a very unenlightened populist who made nonsense promises to bring back long-gone coal jobs, and has tried — so far unsuccessfully — to gut Medicaid, which covers more than a quarter of the state’s residents. Why? A lot of the explanation surely involves identity politics — white and male identity politics. To her credit, Warren repeatedly acknowledges the political importance of prejudice; she’s not one of those people who insist, as Bernie Sanders sometimes seems to, that bigotry won’t be a political factor if only your economic program is progressive enough. But she doesn’t offer any good answers. And let’s be honest: Republicans have gone after Warren herself, in a way they haven’t gone after Sanders, in part because of her gender.
But maybe it’s a matter of time, and what Democrats need right now is a reason to keep fighting. And that’s something Warren’s muscular, unapologetic book definitely offers.
That last part is an easy cover blurb for the paperback edition.