20080807 james galbraith 18
James Galbraith, professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. - 


Kai Ryssdal: John McCain rolled out a new television ad this week, one that makes it look like the Republican candidate's trying to put a little bit of distance between his campaign and more traditional GOP constituencies.

[McCain Ad]: Only McCain has taken on big tobacco, drug companies, fought corruption in both parties...

Commentator and economist James Galbraith says he's seen a lot of of repositioning among conservatives lately.

James Galbraith: Years ago, I realized that the free-market, supply-side crowd, true conservatives who'd ridden high with Reagan, dislike Bush as much as I do. I speak of the hard money, low-tax, Wall Street Journal, deregulate-and-privatize team, the nemeses of my youth, people like Bruce Bartlett, Paul Craig Roberts, the late Jude Wanniski. Suddenly, we were on the same side. Had I gone crazy or had they gone sane?

Whether it was right or wrong, "Reaganomics" had a logic. Each policy would aim at one problem. Tight money would cure inflation. Low taxes would stimulate saving and work effort. Small government would "crowd in" investment. Free trade would make us efficient. Smart people believed this and they had the authority of respected economists like Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek to back them up.

But now those ideas are dead, buried, abandoned. Deregulation brought us miseries in finance, transport, energy and the climate. Free trade agreements dole out favors to big farmers and big pharma. The financial crisis finished off what was left of monetarism, the idea that the Fed should only worry about inflation. And everyone has given up on waiting for low taxes to unleash the creativity of the ultra rich.

Under Bush, oil and gas, drug companies and defense contractors, insurers and usurers control the government of the United States and it does what they want. This is the predator state. The wisdom of free markets? The President gave his own verdict in Houston the other day: "Wall Street got drunk." True enough, but where were the grownups when the party went wild?

For many years, liberals have lived in fear and thrall of the market mantra. It's time to get over it, for if true conservatives realize that our problem is a predator state, shouldn't liberals be out there doing something about it?

Suddenly planning, standards, regulation and progressive taxes don't seem so bad.

Ryssdal: James Galbraith teaches at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. His new book is called "The Predator State."