Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Self-Criticism within the Democratic Ranks

Brad DeLong is frank about where his party falls short in the policy arena, and as to be expected when he says things that most economists would take for granted, but which a lot of liberals simply cannot accept as the truth, the reaction amongst quite a few of his readers is one of outrage. Still, the things he says need saying, and committed liberals are more likely to take them on board when it's coming from one of their own.

"You said the Democrats will have problems doing some things. What will they have trouble doing?"

"Well, dealing with outsourcing for one thing. It's coming--it's coming over the next generation. And the Democratic Party will have a very hard time figuring out how to deal with it constructively. It's likely to begin thinking that people in India who want jobs processing document-images for U.S. companies are our *enemies*. We can't afford to do that--a world in which Indians and Chinese in fifty years are taught that the U.S. tried to keep them poor will be a very unsafe world. A world in which we try to block expanded world trade will be a world in which we will be much poorer than we need to be. And as long as people see themselves as being pulled into better-paying jobs in other industries (rather than being pushed out of where they want to be by cheap foreign competition), we can make the coming generation's expansion of world trade--the coming generation's "outsourcing" boom--a source of wealth and development. But Democrats will have a hard time doing this.

"The most important way to open paths to opportunities is through education. And the Democratic Party will have a very hard time improving American education. One of the big problems with American education today is that we still imagine that we can underpay teachers--we still imagine that for teachers (and nurses) we have this large pool of constrained high-quality female labor to draw on. We need to upgrade the salaries of teachers--and we need to do this while at the same time upgrading the quality of teachers. The Democratic Party can do the former, but it will have a very hard time doing the latter. The latter means that lots of current teachers get fired, and a Democratic Party that has close links with the National Education Association cannot do that.
I think he actually understates the problem where the NEA is concerned, as there simply is no good reason to oppose school vouchers when they are already commonplace in many welfare states that liberals otherwise admire - no good reason, that is, unless the very idea of teachers having to compete makes one break into hives. What is truly saddening is to see so many leading black and Hispanic politicians uncritically buying into the NEA's failed mantras, when it is minority children stuck in hopeless inner-city schools who end up paying the price.