Rubin Where it Itches

I promised an update on the Hamilton Project event yesterday, but Steve Pearlstein of the Post got their first. His artilce explains the most entertaining moment in a generally ho-hum event. The final panel featured Rob Rubin, Larry Summers and Roger Altman, three of the biggest beast of 90s economic policy making. Their remarks were genial in tone, almost relaxed. They all agreed the Globalization was happening, that there were a few problems with inequality, and that while deficits were generally bad, trade was generally good. All of this was taken in good part, until a questioner named "Steve" - who it now appears was the Post's Pearlstein - took them to task, asking then "if any of them would be willing to support the idea of a "time out" on new free-trade initiatives until there was some tangible progress toward greater economic security for U.S. workers." The genial giants demured a couple of times, before a lion-like Summers finally lost patience and slapped down impudent young-pup "Steve" for ideas that were "dangerous", earning a round applause.  Despite this, it seems pretty clear that the three Rubinomists - with all their talks of trade, deficit reduction and higher saving rates - didn't realize quite how their economic orthodoxy has become controversial within the Democratic party. As a side note, despite the FT coverage, they didn't really mention wages much either.      

Beyond that exchange, the most interesting point of the afternoon was raised in the first panel, a debate between centrist Gene Sperling and less centrist Larry Mishel, of the Economic Policy Institute. One of them - i forget which - noted that that the problem for the Democrats interested in promoting a roll for the state (and most specifically in relation to trade) is that voters demand most vocally those things which the state is least good at delivering: protecting their jobs, and identifiying which industries will provide them with good jobs in the future. Instead, the argument was made that the state must talk up the things it can do well, namely providing simple, universal programs that help workers feel less anxious about losing their jobs. Sperling also mentioned that the sharp end of Globalization was felt less keenly in countries with more such programs like the UK; where losing a job - albeit temporarily - did not mean losing benefits like healthcare. Some to mull on. 


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