Krugman’s Modesty (not a joke!)

White Mischief: In a heartening spasm of modesty, Paul Krugman seems to admit that the standard liberal menu of policy goals — “universal health care, higher minimum wages, aid to education, and so on” — are not sufficient to address the large social problem revealed by the Deaton and Case study on rising death rates among American middle-aged whites, especially those with fewer skills. (“At this point you probably expect me to offer a solution,” Krugman writes, “But … “)

P.S.  Assiduous tweeter Richard Yeselson nevertheless rises to defend the incrementalist liberal welfare state agenda, even in the context of the White Despair problem:

Let’s just get to the German level (forget Scandinavia), then we can sort out the other issues. This is the *easy* stuff.

Hmm. The deck chairs on the Titanic were the ‘easy stuff’! Krugman’s agenda items aren’t deck chairs, but they don’t look like lifeboats either.** I’d like to know what we’re going to do about the iceberg.

P.P.S.: “What is the ‘iceberg,’?” Yeselson asks. A: The iceberg is what Krugman (and Douthat) are writing about, namely workers losing what Deaton calls “the narrative of their lives”  because the American economy and culture are not providing the means and meaning they’d expected, probably due to large “tectonic forces” (like technology) that are beyond easy political control.  Simple economic growth — even growth with low unemployment rates, as now — doesn’t seem to be the answer for these people.  A Krugman-style admission that we don’t know what the answer is seems like a heartening first step. ***


** —  ‘Hey, we now have the social safety net of a “mid-level OECD country.” Doesn’t that make you feel better about your life?’

*** — I especially don’t see how increased lower-skiled immigration, which inevitably depresses the wages of lower-skilled workers, will even partially cure this “White Despair” problem. I know immigration is sometimes offered up as a solution to the prospect of “secular stagnation.” I can see where it could stimulate overall growth (i.e., higher GDP).  But I don’t see how more immgrants will help the struggling, unskilled middle aged folks whose low-skill labor market they flood, and who are now showing up dead. But maybe there is some magical property of immigration I’m missing. …