Potshot at Progressive Economics Misses the Mark

Dean Baker and Rob Atkinson debate whether progressive economics is focused on an agenda that advances growth, productivity, and innovation.

By Dean Baker

In his criticism of progressive economics, Rob Atkinson selectively ignores details that do not support his criticism and advances a mistaken view of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). First, Atkinson's basic economic story is more than a bit confused. He touts Germany and Japan as successes in contrast with the United States's failure. CEPR has praised certain aspects of Germany's labor market policy and its short-work policy, which have allowed Germany to lower its unemployment rate despite an economic downturn. That said, it's not clear that Germany and Japan have actually been successes in the way that Atkinson claims. German and Japanese productivity growth has consistently trailed that of the United States over the last 15 years. Though the gap is not huge, it certainly diminishes the contrast.

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What Liberals

In his essay, "Liberalism's Modest Proposals," Daniel Sarewitz makes the mistake of presupposing that "liberals" even exist.

In his essay, "Liberalism's Modest Proposals," Daniel Sarewitz makes the mistake of presupposing that "liberals" even exist. They don't. So it's no good bashing them because they aren't here. Such talk is an aspect of what I have come to think of as "ideological spectrum disorder," in which antique political categories, corresponding to no groups in the world today, are still used to try to make sense of why different people make different policy choices. I side with Leszek Kolakowski, and Immanuel Wallerstein in seeing the terms "conservative," "liberal," and "radical," as having lost any explanatory power or denotative accuracy. Even David Brooks, in a recent op-ed column in the New York Times has awakened to the fact that the liberals are gone.

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Against Manufacturing Policy: A Response to Vaclav Smil

Daniel Ikenson and Vaclav Smil debate the state of the US manufacturing sector.

In "The Manufacturing of Decline," Vaclav Smil makes some valid observations about US manufacturing and trade, but he perpetuates two myths -- that US manufacturing is in decline and that reducing the trade deficit should be a policy objective -- in order to justify industrial policy.

To argue that manufacturing is in decline, Smil relies primarily on "manufacturing output as a share of GDP" and "manufacturing export intensity." Manufacturing as a share of GDP peaked in 1953 at 28.3 percent, but in absolute terms, US manufacturing output has increased year after year, every year (excepting declines during cyclical recessions). So if the manufacturing sector in the United States has been growing absolutely, talk of deindustrialization and manufacturing contraction is wrong.

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Love Your Scapegoats

In his response to Bruno Latour's "Love Your Monsters," Clive Hamilton argues that the "deep greens" have become scapegoats, blamed for the "destabilization the social order, when their only crime is to alert us to it. "But sacrificing them "can only ever give the appearance of preserving the social order... To save ourselves we must learn to love our scapegoats."

If Frankenstein is to serve as a parable for "political ecology," as Bruno Latour suggests in his essay, "Love Your Monsters," then Mary Shelley's plot must be reworked. In the revised version, Dr. Frankenstein is no more than an inquisitive but anxious assistant to the true creator of the monster, his chemistry teacher at the university in Ingolstadt, Professor Waldman. As the professor "infuses the spark of being" into the gigantic human figure, the assistant flees "in breathless horror and disgust". Traumatized by what he has helped create, the young man has a nervous breakdown (as in the novel), which puts him out of action for a long time.

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We’ll be Nice to Nature When it’s Good for Us

Among the few philosophers whom economists might deign to read, Mark Sagoff excites the most anxiety. Environmental economists are easily annoyed, and now ecological economists will feel the sting of Sagoff's insights in "The Rise and Fall of Ecological Economics."

Among the few philosophers whom economists might deign to read, Mark Sagoff excites the most anxiety. Environmental economists are easily annoyed, and now ecological economists will feel the sting of Sagoff's insights in "The Rise and Fall of Ecological Economics."

Sagoff has located the central incoherence in contemporary economics applied to environmental and ecological affairs. Thrown into the bargain is a reminder that contemporary ecology is nothing but intelligent design for agnostics. Here the pertinent agent is not a benevolent God but rather the abundant imagination of a community of scientists who have managed to check their skepticism at the door. The promise, the conceit, of scientism has failed us. As Gertrude Stein would say, there is no there, there.

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