Deficit Hawks Come Home to Roost

Arcata, Calif.

I agree with William Greider: Obama should not heed the deficit hawks [“Deficit Hawk Hysteria,” Nov. 16]. Greider’s look at the World War II deficit,120 percent of annual GDP–double today’s level–supports this. During the war there were shortages of consumer goods and rationing. But we were able to make a remarkable transition from a guns to a butter economy, absorbing the millions of GIs no longer needed for military duty. In contrast, we have 10.2 percent unemployment and stimulus spending that could turn into stagflation. Still, stimulus is what the economy needs now, and green jobs might work if there were something to cap consumer prices and spending. Perhaps precautionary saving to avoid the possibility of layoffs, with government policies encouraging savings–i.e., through the issuance of “energy independence bonds”–might work. And perhaps increased savings could be combined with higher energy prices and subsidies derived from auctioning cap-and-trade allowances.


Coopersville, Mich.

William Greider, Paul Krugman et al. have learned their history lessons. It would be a mistake to tighten our belts, as Franklin Roosevelt learned. But we are not living in the 1940s, and the hyperconsumerism Greider advocates to move the economy out of its doldrums (whether it originates with the feds or us) is not sustainable.


Greider Replies

Washington, D.C.

Many readers were offended, even appalled, by my plea for big spending from Washington to restore the economy. These two letter writers are on board for the concept if not all the details. “Hyperconsumerism” is the opposite of what I proposed. I foresee a period of austerity in which consumption is essentially suppressed so households can save and restore their balance sheets. The economy would be driven instead by government investment in future production and the industrial transformation to a less profligate, more sustainable society. It is not World War II, but we are in an epic emergency.


Gorbachev: Man With a Vision

Watertown, Mass.

Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen F. Cohen’s interview [“Gorbachev on 1989,” Nov. 16] is an important contribution to the historical record and reminds us of the critical importance of integrity and courage, as well as Proverbs’ lesson “A people without a vision will perish.” That said, Gorbachev missed one of the greatest factors that contributed to the end of the cold war: the nuclear freeze and “Euromissile” movements in the United States and Western Europe, as well as democratic movements in Eastern Europe.

During the last years of the Carter administration, the militarist right wing’s “B Team” stoked a renewed US-Soviet nuclear confrontation with its calls for the deployment of Pershing II and Tomahawk cruise missiles in Europe. These could theoretically decapitate Soviet leadership from their nuclear forces within eight minutes and then destroy Moscow’s nuclear arsenal.

Even before Ronald Reagan was elected, Randall Forsberg and the Boston Study Group conceived “A Call to Halt the Arms Race,” and E.P. Thompson, Mary Kaldor and others in Britain and Europe launched the European disarmament movement, demanding disarmament and supporting Eastern European democratic forces.

During the 1980 election, which brought Reagan and the B Team to power, Randy Kehler, Frances Crowe and others took the question of the freeze to voters in western Massachusetts, providing the model for the 1981 and ’82 town meeting votes across New England and the state referendums that forced Reagan to do what he had pledged never to do: engage in disarmament negotiations with Soviet leaders.

The rest–as Gorbachev reminds us– is history. Survival requires us to get our history right. Thus we must honor the intellectual and community-based visionaries who understood that nuclear disarmament and democracy were possible and interrelated. We should also honor the people who organized the town meetings, state referendums and mass marches that brought millions into the streets of New York and Western European cities, and those millions whose individual commitments and actions turned the arc of history toward survival and justice.

American Friends Service Committee
Empire and the Bomb: How the U.S. Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World


Gorbachev’s place in history is unprecedented. He is the rare leader who could step back and assess the juncture in history before him. He saw a system in dire need of reform and took the difficult steps to begin it. It is remarkable that he told the East German leaders that the way forward was their choice and, shunning the entire history of Soviet/Eastern Europe, refused to send in Soviet troops to shore up leaders who refused to change with the times.

Unfortunately, as the cold war ended, Clinton coasted and Bush took us backward. Obama, therefore, has a chance to lead as the first real post-cold war president. He has the historical scope of Gorbachev and has begun an initial turnaround. Whether he can match Gorbachev’s contributions in normalizing foreign policy and promoting world stability remains to be seen.