Question to readers: How have your views changed over the past three years?

Over the past three years, we have experienced an amazing number of political, economic, and legislative trials. Have your views changed on anything important?

I don’t do a very good job of tapping the collective intelligence of our readers. I will try to do better. Hence the below query. I have more, too.

Over the past three years, we have experienced an amazing number of political, economic, and legislative trials. It’s human nature, I think, to respond to such events by doubling down on our own prior strongly-held beliefs. Health care reform/TARP/stimulus whatever proves that I am even more right than I thought I was!

That’s really too bad. We’ve been through some hard trials in both the biblical and the clinical sense. We’ve been tested by difficult times. We’ve also had the opportunity to see many of our own beliefs tested through admittedly-imperfect real-world experiments that should challenge our ideological, strategic, and policy views. Anyone active and attentive should be thinking differently about something important after having witnessed so much history being made so quickly on so many different fronts. Tell me–Have your own views changed on any basic issues of domestic policy?

My own views have changed in a few areas. Watching so many seniors oppose health reform and other measures to help struggling younger people, my attitudes have hardened a bit on issues of intergenerational equity. I’m more sympathetic towards Bill and Hillary Clinton’s health reform efforts. Many of us in the Obama camp identified the Clintons’ prior mistakes with greater alacrity than than we proved able to anticipate our own.

How about you?

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

33 thoughts on “Question to readers: How have your views changed over the past three years?”

  1. I’ve become monomaniacal about full employment. The only time anything progressive happens is when there’s full employment, so I’ve replaced my Brad DeLongism with Jamie Galbraithism. Out with the neoliberal left and in with the full employment left.

  2. I’m willing to entertain amending the Constitution to modify birthright citizenship, which was not on my radar 3 years ago.

  3. I was for Obama, over Hillary Clinton, because I thought he would be less polarizing and because I feel that the bitter mania from the right is very reminiscent of the lead-up to the Civil War. Clearly, I was wrong (i.e., there was no hope to simmer things down), and so if I had to do it over again, I’d max out for HRC instead of BHO — because I perceive her to be a stronger fighter.

  4. I used to be afraid of a “run away” constitutional convention, that if we held one, it would be hijacked by the political elite, who’d do all sorts of crazy things like repealing the 2nd amendment. I’m no longer concerned about that; What’s the point in having a nifty constitution which will never again be enforced? Even if the elites DID rewrite the Constitution to their liking, at least a constitution which honestly said what they wanted would no longer require a dishonest judiciary.

    Better a bad constitution enforced, than a good constitution that’s dead and gone. That’s what I’ve come to believe.

  5. My major change has been to become more pessimistic. As a Scandinavian-style social democrat I had high hopes when Obama was elected. I thought we were going to back away from greed and war for a while, and get some progressive things done. Well, no. I read Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars” and saw just how hard it is to stop a runaway train once it gets rolling. And watching the health care debate showed me just how hard for a politician to be a statesman and put the country first. They cannot think past the next election campaign. And fixing the budget? Well, I think it is pretty clear that any cutting is simply going to come out of the hides of people who don’t have lobbyists ready to hand out favors. Sorry to be a downer, but you did ask.

  6. Ralph Nader was wrong in 2000, but his asininity at that time has lead to the final truth of his assertion that there is no real difference between the Republicans and Democrats at the national level. It’s awful to contemplate, but it is the truth. And I am finished voting for the lesser of two evils. I have been doing so since 1974 and it has done precisely no good. And I agree with RtR. I’d not fall so hard for Obama’s schtick again. In a choice between two DLCers I’d pick the one who understands the enemy and who knows how and when to fight. Barack Obama ran as the transformational figure we so desperately needed. He lied. He had a chance to succeed or fail spectacularly, and either outcome would have led to better things. He instead chose to fail incrementally and ignominiously. Alas.

  7. A nation of chihuahuas yapping over chicken bones

    I’ve been rocked by how quickly the country seems to be following my prediction seven years back of an empire on the skids.
    It’s one thing to abandon the moon and Mars (read: a nation’s sense of its future) to the Chinese, Europeans, Japanese, and can’t-do privateers…
    It is quite another to watch the country embrace republican small ball, as if the way forward is to hold in our collective breaths while China aggrandizes.
    The interest rates and unemployment situation favors massive government expenditures and vision.
    Yet the masses have apparently bought into no-can-do with rowdy passion.
    There is absolutely no vision in America. Anywhere.
    It’s all small minds playing small ball…
    A nation of dumb midgets, twiddling thumbs and hoping for a new tat and a smile from Lindsay Lohan.
    The idiotocracy is being broadcasted….

    Also, I correctly predicted Obama’s presidency would draw the racists into the sunshine. What I did not foresee was that there would be so many of them, that instead of the media trying to stomp them out, they would form a new political party that “just wants their country back” from that Kenyan Muslim. I’ve an now utterly convinced America wasn’t ready for a black president who is less liberal than Richard Nixon. If I could run it back, I’d have Hillary instead. Just because she is white, and I now know how “post racial” America isn’t….

    All told, my pessimism about America has only increased.
    Especially when the census came in showing the South is having more babies than any other part of the country. There’s no future in that…
    If you offerred me citizenship in Canada, I’d leap at it in a Arizona second. And then I’d work like hell to convince my fellow Canadians to build a wall.
    This is an ugly, can’t-do country with too many guns and to few readers. And it is getting older, uglier, and less well read every day.

    Oh one more thing…

    I stopped being an organ donor in Arizona.
    This was a moral decision. Couldn’t stand the thought of giving my organs away to a state full of Dick Cheneys that would that deny them to others.
    You’re not getting mine old farts. Piss on ya to a hospital hell. Oh sorry. I forgot for a second my new found American civility:
    Go fish pops. Go fish.

  8. On policy: I used to think we have any more hope of accomplishing anything positive in Afghanistan. No more.
    On people: I used to think that Obama’s unity rhetoric was a ploy to make the Republicans look bad (for rejecting civility, reason, etc.). I now think that it’s a ploy to cover his conservative leanings/triangulation.

  9. I am much more sympathetic now to the argument for stimulus programs. I tend to be very suspicious of stimulus arguments. I think Republicans just want to use it as an excuse to cut taxes, and Democrats want to use it as an excuse to jack up spending. And, in fact, we have an example in the 1990’s where just about everyone was calling for stimulus, eventually, the choice was made to reduce the deficit instead, and we had a big-time boom despite the fact that taxes were up and spending was down.

    So my general bias is towards deficit reduction, not stimulus.

    That said, people like Paul Krugman have been very persuasive that the current problem is not the same as the 1990’s and that there is little benefit to be gained from trying to reduce long-term interest rates and much that can be gained by stimulating aggregate demand.

    I still am suspicious of stimulus– it’s too easy for politicians to gravitate towards anything that involves cutting taxes and spending money– but it may nonetheless be the right thing to do.

  10. I’ve become harder – it’s more clear that the financial elites don’t just run things, but are quite happy and quite able to run this country into the ground.

    I’ve also watched a bunch of people do their best to do just that for 8 years, who then turned around and pretended that they hadn’t (i.e., the Tea Party and GOP politicians).

    I’ve watched the elite MSM aid and abet running this country into the ground, to the point where the owners’ wealth was being devastated, and then watched the owners continue to aid and abet….

  11. I used to be optimistic about the American electorate. Now, I believe that Phineas Barnum was right. There’s a sucker born every minute and two to take him. We are allowing politicians on both sides of the aisle to behave like whores. Although I’m told there are things whores won’t do for money, it’s become apparent there isn’t anything our alleged leaders won’t do for political currency.

    They play the game for political advantage in the short run, there appears to be little thought for the future. We have a fiscal crisis in health care finance staring at us, and instead of trying to manage the anaconda that’s going to kill our economy the politicians are trying to figure out how to keep the other side from getting credit. We are engaged in 1 1/2 wars we ought not be in (Iraq is down about 1/2 a war now), and rather than figuring out how to extricate ourselves from this particular tar baby the politicians are telling us we can’t possibly stop this mess. We have elected representatives busy buying toys that the admirals and generals insist they don’t want.

    And worst of all, we keep electing these midgets of integrity. I’m now pretty well convinced that the American electorate is (in the aggregate) a collection of idiots. I’m ready to put a testing process in place for the franchise. If you can’t demonstrate at least a passing acquaintance with current events and our governmental structures you can’t vote. Sorry, you just aren’t informed enough to have an opinion worth counting.

  12. In a general way, I am much more pragmatic now than I was before: I believed that massive, liberal victories in health care and education and financial regulation were the only acceptable results of such legislative fights. Anything less was worse than nothing. I understand now, though, that the modest victories won in each of these ways are each vastly superior to the status quo: PPACA insures 32 million people while modestly decreasing the deficit. No, it’s not single-payer, and there’s not even a public option, but it changes the status quo and is a fitting framework on which to build further reform. And we’ll never go back to non-universal care as the standard.

  13. I am more able to see how government intervention distorts the marketplace and results in real harms: ethanol … highway spending … ‘slum clearance’ on behalf of big real estate … mortgage interest deductions for fantasy vacation homes … boondoggles and prop-ups of every kind.

    Transformative investments are way over-rated, even counter-productive.

    My belief in the small and human-scaled endeavor as having redemptive power has been affirmed. If I had to choose between walkable communities and high-speed rail as “what will save us”, I’d vote for the pedestrian.

    I think there are modes of living that are maladaptive and I’m willing to say so. It’s OK to be judgmental. There are absolutes. I think trash culture is responsible for a lot of our ills. But I’m not talking about the trash culture that social conservatives might imagine. I mean the culture of loudness, rudeness, love of lucre, licentiousness, and ignorance. It’s as prevalent among the rich as the poor. The rich just look good while engaging in it, and people kiss up to them more.

  14. Well I’m new here but here goes: I used to actually trust the banksters. I didn’t think they were infallible, or completely honest, nor did I think they were deserving of the massive salaries they pull in because they are uniquely endowed with some mystical skill or ability that makes them the engine that drives the economy. However, I never in a million years thought they’d put together investment vehicles (mortgage backed securities) that turned out to be massive and obvious frauds. What they said was in those securities wasn’t. What they did was the equivalent of selling a guy a car with no engine, only easier to pull off because the deception was harder to detect. Yet they so far haven’t had to pay the investors they defrauded back, or seen the inside a prison, which means the rule of law no longer applies to certain people.

  15. I have changed my mind about taxation. As a liberal and a Democrat, I used to think of taxes as the price I pay for living in a civil society. I no longer think I’m getting my money’s worth.

    So I call on my fellow Democrats to start pushing for a 50%, across the board, tax cut. Don’t do anything namby-pamby like offer to “pay for it” with spending cuts; Republicans have told everybody that’s not necessary.

    I’m being cynical, not sarcastic. I really do want Democrats to propose cutting taxes in half, if for no other reason than to enjoy the spectacle of the GOP’s response.


  16. I now believe that the dominance of the financial sector in the American economy is a much bigger problem than I thought, and more likely to be part of the explanation for stagnating living standards.

  17. Without variety it wouldn’t be a horse race or a good blog thread. I came here to note that my view of the Clinton Clinton and Magaziner effort has not improved at all. In fact the trials of Obamacare show how crazy they were to try to reinvent more than was strictly necessary.

    As one can guess from my typing “Magaziner” I am an unrepetent DeLongian. I don’t understand why Chrismaealy thinks he is soft on unemployment.

    Re Robert the Red my mom and dad supported Obama over Clinton for the same reason. I told them that the Republicans will manage to loathe and hate Obama. That is what they do.

    OK but I do agree on one change — I am angry with the elderly people who want to keep the government’s hands off their medicare. This has no practical consequences, since the elderly are so united in support of programs for the elderly that the not so elderly just have to submit.

    I think more highly of TARP then I did at first. It has turned out to not cost as much as I predicted (to put it mildly). This has made me even more enthusiastic about having the Federal Government invest in risky securities. So now I am a Quigginite Delongite.

    To me the relatively major change came when I started reading blogs (cough cough I wasn’t always like this. Once I was a respected member of the community cough if only I hadn’t read that first blog). I recall being afraid of catching DFH cooties when I first typed Now I hate the inside-the-beltway villager corporate media.

  18. I have become more convinced that we need serious structural changes to counter the power of the wealthy. — I was always more interested in helping the poor than helping the rich, partly because I figured the rich were quite capable of looking out for themselves, and partly because I thought the interests of the poor had been getting very, very short shrift since, oh, 1976 or so. I always used to think that the demise of organized labor was a problem because it meant no force to counter the very wealthy. I always used to think that there was a class war going on, and that it was sort of amusing that the wealthy were so often the ones complaining about it, given that they were the aggressors. (Rich people get their taxes cut. Rich people complain about the skyrocketing deficit, and get politicians to cut programs for the poor. Poor people: “wait! that’s not fair!” Rich people: “Oh noes, you are fomenting class warfare!!!”)

    Now I think all those things, but about ten times as strongly.

    I have also been absolutely shocked by the lamentable state that economics seems to be in. There were always bits I thought were sort of silly, but honestly, I had no idea it was so bad.

  19. I am one of Koreyel’s detested seniors. I used to be a ‘moderate’ Republican, which meant, at the time, that I was socially pretty liberal and fiscally moderately conservative. And I firmly believed in voting for each candidate individually, never a party line. And voting for each ballot measure on its merits, not by which party was for or against it. But it’s been a lot more than three years since I voted for a Republican for anything, because even in an individual case where she might be the better candidate, I simply can’t swallow increasing their numbers in government. If you feed ’em, they’ll multiply.

    But three years have brought me nothing but horror at the plain stupidity and ignorance of so many people, who have more resources than anyone in history to find out facts. We don’t need pundits to tell us what somebody said or did (edited, filtered, and taken out of context.) We can find out for ourselves quickly and easily. Yet we’ve become a nation of sheep (which gives sheep a bad name) who are willing to be fed whatever the media wishes. I thought people around my age actually knew how to read, and how to do some critical thinking. I thought they might like a president with some class, rather than one they’d like to have a beer with. I thought they would approve of HCR, since both parties have made so many noises about it for years.

    Believe me, not all people over 60 are clones of Dick Cheney. I doubt I believe anything he does, and if I found that I did agree on something, I’d examine my own thought process! But I am, on the whole, more discouraged at what passes for people’s ‘thought processes’ as each year passes, and completely disillusioned at what I used to think of as a somewhat civil, thoughtful, unselfish public taken as a whole.

  20. I’ve moved left, I think. With respect to the financial sector I’m in much the same camp as Andrew Sabl and MarkJ. I thought they were overpaid, but at least did something useful. I no longer think that much of what they do is useful,and some seems to be destructive. But it’s broader than that. I think we have a class of people who manage to obtain and hold great wealth without having done much to deserve it. And note that I define “done something to deserve it” in pretty much straight economic terms. That is, “delivered goods or services whose value to others equals their pay.” This class includes not only Wall Street types, but many top corporate executives.

    Unsurprisingly (to me, anyway) I also agree with hilzoy.

  21. As a lifelong (I’m 69) liberal Democrat (and Hillary supporter), my view of the judgment, intelligence, and integrity of the Democratic Party and much of the left has plummeted, although my own political/policy stances haven’t moved to the right by so much as a hair–if anything, I’m more of a lefty than I was.

  22. Had I been in Congress when the TARP legislation was proposed, I would have denounced it as billions of dollars of good money being thrown after bad, with a generous heaping of moral hazard on top….and I would have been completely off-base, the dang thing worked very well.

  23. I must say also kudos to Harold for stimulating one of the best threads we have had here in a long time, with high honors also to Betsy for the eloquent passage below:

    I think trash culture is responsible for a lot of our ills. But I’m not talking about the trash culture that social conservatives might imagine. I mean the culture of loudness, rudeness, love of lucre, licentiousness, and ignorance. It’s as prevalent among the rich as the poor. The rich just look good while engaging in it, and people kiss up to them more.

  24. Good question. One big thing for me is that I think we should abolish the corporate income tax as a part of a comprehensive tax reform. This will give maximum incentive for new jobs which is a huge priority and we have had terrible decade for jobs. Note that I would rather end it than decrease it b/c if reduced and then jobs don’t result as expected critics will just say it is still too high. Lets really try it and if increases jobs good for everyone; if not, then we move ahead and tweak policy knowing that. Corporate taxes only raise between 9-13% of total fed receipts.

  25. I vaguely remember Brad DeLong posting an announcement of a symposium on the question “How have your ideas changed because of the crisis?” Or something like that. He was to be one of the speakers. Tyler Cowen was on the bill but couldn’t make it. I don’t remember who the other two were. This was sometime in the last few months, but I couldn’t find it when I searched his blog (I couldn’t get the search terms right — I’d get either way too many hits or not the right one). If anyone has any more information on this conference (or transcripts or papers), please post it.

  26. I’ve become more cynical (which I hadn’t really thought possible). It’s become clear to me that taxes aren’t by any means the only laws that are for the little people. I’m actually less in favor of TARP than I was at the time; I thought then that it was a way to gain breathing space and avoid complete meltdown while some kind of real reform could be put in place, but it turns out (imo) to have been more about kicking the problem down the road while the usual suspects consolidated their positions. I’ve even begun to wonder just a little, every now and then, about second-amendment remedies.

  27. I’m starting to think that conservatives are correct that government is the enemy. But for different reasons. Namely, we have financial regulatory capture at Simon Johnson and the rest have pointed out. We had nearly a full economic collapse but reformed very little and held no one to account. We are screaming about deficits but won’t touch defense spending (although I clearly recognize that these are a form of make work too not unlike direct hiring in other areas). I’m not at all convinced that our political system can effectively implement the policies that would be required to reign in the spending that ACA would want to happen—even if the Republicans were to disappear off the face of the earth.

    Without campaign finance reform, taking back of the airwaves for political campaigns, I don’t see much hope. The Democrats and Republicans both need their money men.

    Also like Hilzoy’s comments.

  28. I’ve become more progressive than a Democrat.

    I’ve also become more cynical and pessimistic. They sheer weight of our past’s momentum has made me doubt that the ship can avoid the collision.

    I used to believe that some of the worst politicians we’re cynical panderers but I’ve come to see many of them as pandering fools whose lack of intelligence limits their cynicism.

    I’ve considered moving to a smaller country where a younger gov’t system has learned from our missteps.

    I used to think our congress did things–I’ve come to understand they can do little given the cards they’ve been dealt and refuse to fold.

  29. ANd what Hilzoy said about the rich having their way with the poor. Would Marx still say that religion is the opiate of the masses or has it become fast food and cable? Something is keeping them down.

  30. Although I like him in other respects, I have come to realize that Barack Obama doesn’t actually give a flying frack about civil liberties and I’m pretty unhappy about that.

  31. I’m quite late to this discussion. I am shocked at how quickly the 2008 election was swallowed by politics as usual. The inability (weakness) of the Obama administration to simply repudiate such obviously repugnant policies as the use of torture and detentions at Guantanomo. (They will say that they have ended torture and I do not believe them). Even when there has been an “historic” win by the administration I’m shocked at how little they achieved with the most dominating Congress in nearly 40 years. I think they should be embarrassed. I’ll vote for Obama. The alternative is like voting for the apocolypse. But frankly, they did far too little with their majority (I do not accept that they didn’t have a choice) and at least for me they have crushed any hopes of the U.S. maintaining its important world position. In fact, I think they have doomed us (with a very able assist from the previous adminitration and the current Congress) to a future of ever slipping mediocrity. It’s truly sad.

  32. “With respect to the financial sector I’m in much the same camp as Andrew Sabl and MarkJ. I thought they were overpaid, but at least did something useful. I no longer think that much of what they do is useful,and some seems to be destructive. But it’s broader than that. I think we have a class of people who manage to obtain and hold great wealth without having done much to deserve it. And note that I define “done something to deserve it” in pretty much straight economic terms. That is, “delivered goods or services whose value to others equals their pay.” This class includes not only Wall Street types, but many top corporate executives.”

    I actually agree with almost all of this. I have absolutely no problem with people delivering goods and services or huge innovations and making piles of money off of it. So I’m not a WalMart hater or anything. But I definitely believe that much of the financial system wealth has turned into rent seeking, and it isn’t healthy.

  33. “The inability (weakness) of the Obama administration to simply repudiate such obviously repugnant policies”

    “Inability”? Caphilldcne, meet Tom. It’s not ability Obama lacks in this area, it’s desire. He’s not failing to do what you expected of him, he’s not trying to, because he didn’t WANT what you thought he wanted. You got played. Kinda like I got played by Harry Browne, before I ditched the LP.

    “But I definitely believe that much of the financial system wealth has turned into rent seeking, and it isn’t healthy.”

    Now, THAT I agree with. No shocker, didn’t Smith say, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” The only thing I’d add to that is that the same is true of people in government, with billy clubs added to the mix.

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