For many years, beginning in the Reagan era, the most compelling conservative anti-government slogan was Ronald Reagan’s common-sense statement – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It was a powerfully compelling statement and one so clear as to be entirely self-evident, both as a practical truth and as a metaphor for all forms of government activity.
Well, the indispensible Paul Krugman has now penned a new and equally compelling slogan and aphorism for all Democrats who recognize the need for sensible regulation.
Writing in The New York Review of Books, he says:
…the basic principle should be clear: anything that has to be rescued during a financial crisis, because it plays an essential role in the financial mechanism, should be regulated when there isn’t a crisis so that it doesn’t take excessive risks.
This is a remarkable expression of economic common sense, one with which the vast majority of the American electorate can effortlessly agree. For the purposes of everyday political debate, however, the concept can actually be made even simpler and more general:
If some firm or institution needs the American taxpayer to bail it out when there is a major crisis, then it needs ongoing financial regulation by the American taxpayer’s representatives when there’s not a major crisis.
These notions are just as compelling, logical and as self evident as Ronald Reagan’s classic remark. Opponents of sensible regulation will mumble frantically about the “invisible hand”, “automatic equilibrium” and “the market as decentralized information processing system,” but Democrats can just calmly repeat these slogans over and over again as utterly obvious, common sense, and basically self-evident truths.
(The slogans are, in fact, quite flexible. You can croak them out sardonically like Poe’s Raven saying “nevermore “or get a group of kids to chant them like team spirit day cheers for the high school football team.)
But do be prepared. When the self-evident nature of these arguments begin to overcome all rational objections, defenders of deregulation will suddenly whip out sheets of graph paper and begin furiously drawing a variety of curved lines while simultaneously reciting incantations of the form “in an ideal free market all consumers receive exactly the goods and services they desire” and “in an ideal free market all producers receive exactly the compensation they deserve”
Linguistically speaking, these incantations most closely resemble the vespers liturgy used in many European monasteries in the late Middle Ages and the drawings appear remarkably similar to the prehistoric Nasca lines on the Pacific coast of Peru. But both, in fact, are actually verbal and graphic representations of mathematical equations whose essential purpose is to deflect all arguments based on common sense.
Fortunately, as this is the Christmas season, there is a very educational game based on these notions that can be played at holiday parties or to entertain precocious children. The game is to go through all the classic conservative economics texts like Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose, Jude Wanniski’s The Way the World Works and so on replacing every instance of the phrase “the free market” with the words “Santa Claus”.
The game consists in seeing how many pages, chapters and even entire volumes one can review before finding sentences that do not make exactly as much sense after the alteration as they did before (e.g. “Santa Claus insures that everybody gets exactly what they want.” “Santa Claus insures that everybody receives exactly what they deserve”). Some people have gone through thousands of pages this way without ever encountering any difficulty.
It’s great fun, trust me. It’s rather like playing Mad Libs, only funnier.
And best of all, when you’re done you can take the books you’ve annotated, wrap them in Christmas paper and give them as gifts to any of your acquaintances who still do not accept the need for reasonable regulation of business and the financial sector.
And, hey, don’t forget to add Paul Krugman’s delicious new slogan on your Christmas card.