The "fundamental message of the paper," as defined by the authors, is this:
"Policy initiatives with 'feasible' limits will not strongly affect distribution in the U.S. economy ... Only major social changes -- expropriating the expropriators in the ancient phrase -- could begin to accomplish this task."
It's easy to follow these conclusions down a dark road. If Democratic policies fail to fundamentally address American inequality, voters could once again be convinced that -- in that timeworn Republican phrase -- "government itself is the problem."
That's essentially what we saw after a post-crisis stimulus that helped revive the economy, but was too small to extend that recovery to most Americans. That led many people to conclude, not that the stimulus was too small, but that it didn't work at all.
(Perhaps not coincidentally, Lawrence Summers reportedly played a key role in reducing the recommended size of that stimulus.)
If the leading Democratic candidate's policies are likely to prove inadequate, however, the Republican alternative would be disastrous. The author's models show that the "Path to Prosperity," as the GOP calls its policy, "leads to depression." In the GOP's "balanced budget" scenario, GDP would fall 9 percent.
Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.
So why aren't any leading politicians offering solutions that might actually work? The answer may lie in the "quandary" that the New York Times described for the Hillary Clinton campaign: "how to address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy" -- the same individuals who are presumably expected to fund her campaign.
But there are ways to address that quandary. One is to recognize that struggling Americans want and need economic reformation, not personal vilification. The public is presumably much more interested in solving its problems than it is in demonizing wealthy strangers.
In fact, the entire "envy" and "vilification" framing is counterproductive. It's a rhetorical ploy that, whether intentionally or not, characterizes a genuine national crisis -- and the hardship of millions -- as a transitory and less than admirable emotional state. We are dealing with a problem that threatens to tear our social fabric apart, and it must be discussed that way.
To address it, we will need to change the terms of the national debate -- to begin with, in commentary and analysis. At a minimum, we must stop describing politically "feasible" half-measures as the "progressive" side of the debate. It is time for a genuinely progressive social and political dialogue to take center stage.
That means building an independent movement that is unafraid to call for the deeper shifts needed to reduce inequality -- and to keep our society whole.
The situation also calls for political leaders who are willing to look beyond the world of wealthy individual and corporate donors. Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, has spoken of a volunteer-based and movement-based presidential candidacy. The effort to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren is also movement-based. And it's equally important, if not more so, to mount the same kind of campaigns at all level of government.
In order to effect ongoing and long-term change, we'll also need to move to publicly funded elections. (That almost goes without saying.)
One thing seems clear: Without a major shift in direction, the future is likely to be grim. Our economy could come to resemble that of H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine," with its wealthy indolent "Eloi" and hardworking subterranean "Morlochs."
Readers may recall that the Wells story didn't end well for either population.