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Should Bold Ideas Drown Out Old Ideas?

Summary:
Radical ideas are not unusual in the early stages of a US presidential election campaign, but many of the Democratic candidates for 2020 are advocating unrealistic policies. Just because a new idea seems more exciting does not make it better than an established, more practical one. CAMBRIDGE – America’s Democratic Party is moving to the left, we are told. It is not yet clear whether this applies to the median American voter, or the median member of Congress who was elected last November. But it is clear that many of the candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are experimenting with “bold new ideas.” They seem to receive a disproportionate amount of attention for doing so. If interpreted literally, many of

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Radical ideas are not unusual in the early stages of a US presidential election campaign, but many of the Democratic candidates for 2020 are advocating unrealistic policies. Just because a new idea seems more exciting does not make it better than an established, more practical one.

CAMBRIDGE – America’s Democratic Party is moving to the left, we are told. It is not yet clear whether this applies to the median American voter, or the median member of Congress who was elected last November. But it is clear that many of the candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are experimenting with “bold new ideas.” They seem to receive a disproportionate amount of attention for doing so. If interpreted literally, many of these policy proposals are not entirely practical, either economically or politically.

Fortunately, few of the current or prospective Democratic candidates have yet committed irrevocably to extreme policies. Any of them could still build a campaign on solid practical proposals to address inequality and other pressing problems, without sacrificing economic growth or fiscal sustainability.

Such ideas are perhaps most likely to come from moderates such as former Vice President Joe Biden, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, former US Representative Beto O’Rourke, or former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Other prominent Democrats, including former President Barack Obama and US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, share this emphasis on the doable. They made important progress with practical policies in areas such as health insurance, financial regulation, and progressive taxation, although Republicans often blocked or reversed these advances.

There is no reason why other new faces in the presidential field, such as US Senator Amy Klobuchar, cannot follow in the sensible Democratic tradition of Obama and Pelosi. The same applies to fellow senators Cory...

Jeffrey Frankel
Jeffrey Frankel, a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, previously served as a member of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. He directs the Program in International Finance and Macroeconomics at the US National Bureau of Economic Research, where he is a member of the Business Cycle Dating Committee, the official US arbiter of recession and recovery.

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