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Monthly Archives: November 2010

Every policy change has two components: a partisan and a non-partisan change. Partisan changes are along standard partisan axes, where people are lined up in a tug-o-war on different sides pulling in different directions. Non partisan changes, in contrast, are not seen as a win for one side relative to others…partisan changes can only be good if some parties are right while others are wrong about what is good. In contrast, you can be right about a non-partisan change without others being wrong. Since the total space has a far larger dimension that the partisan space, there is a huge scope for searching in that larger space for changes that all sides could see as good.

The whole piece is worth reading.


Fiscal conservatives are being criticized as hypocrites for letting deficit spending go unchecked during the Bush administration, but now raising it as an issue under Obama.  A few thoughts:

  1. It’s a valid criticism.
  2. The criticism doesn’t affect the validity of the argument for fiscal conservatism.
  3. The scale of deficit spending, as evidenced by this chart, severely weakens the criticism.

I’ve been advancing the notion that the tea parties contain a legitimate political argument–fiscal conservatism.  If this is true, tea partiers should abandon politicians who run from the opportunity to implement fiscal conservatism.  In the house, tea-party Republicans are revealing their true colors.  Congressman Jack Kingston places the challenge:

“Anybody who’s a Republican right now, come June, is going to be accused of hating seniors, hating education, hating children, hating clean air and probably hating the military and farmers, too,”
Of course, Republicans who dodge the issue will be accused of not being fiscal conservatives, which may be even worse for their re-election chances.
See commentary from Tyler Cowen and Kevin Drum.

Here’s a narrative: A radical president came to power in the United States, gaining control of the white house, senate, and house or representatives.  With the opposition powerless to oppose his actions, the president rapidly expanded the role of government, made drastic increases to government spending, and in a real sense changed the fundamental nature of American democracy.  Eventually, a grass-roots conservative opposition took form, spread rapidly across the population, gained political power and began to pull back changes made by the radical president, George W. Bush.

Liberals weren’t the only ones wandering in the desert during the Bush administration; fiscal conservatives had no representation in office.  As a fiscal conservative, Obama isn’t any better.  Thus fiscal conservatives have every right to be angry, energized, and pushing for change of leadership.  The timing may seem conspicuous–where were fiscal conservatives when Bush was in power?–but their position is entirely valid.

Understanding tea partiers motivation is an imposing task; they have risen so rapidly that it’s difficult to understand what drives them.  They’ve been diagnosed as know-nothings, racists, and lunatics.  They’ve been said to follow Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and the Koch brothers.  And surely, in a movement this large, some are, just as some small number of Obama supporters actually are socialists, communists, or members of radical groups.  But fiscal conservatives seem to be the ones effecting change: consider that senate winners Rubio, Toomey, Paul, and Kirk are legitimate thinking fiscal conservatives, while senate losers Angle and O’Donnell are not.

Racism, ignorance, and stupidity have no place in politics.  Fiscal conservatism is sorely need, and thus far it seems to be the primary beneficiary of the tea parties.

Political scientist Steven Teles ruminates on political strategies regarding deficit reduction.  He holds that Republican politicians hold the key as to whether a policy change will be enacted:

Assuming that Republican elected officials want to cut a deal, do they believe that they could plausibly get away with it where their base is concerned? This is where I have severe skepticism… Their base is mobilized, and thus capable of something like collective action if they believe their interests are being violated by their representatives…the base has been converging on litmus tests so extreme that only people who REALLY are not sell-outs would agree on them.

Teles thinks that the Republican base will push Republican politicians away from any deal that includes tax increases, and thus decrease the likelihood of a deal being worked out.  I’m not so sure.  My sense is that tea partiers see deficit reduction itself as within their interest, and may mobilize against any politicians that oppose it.  Furthermore, the republican base may mobilize against spending cuts, particularly those to Medicare, social security and defense spending.  So this could break any number of ways.  As I wrote earlier:

The tea parties’ stated policy goals–cut taxes, reduce the deficit, don’t cut any major spending programs–indeed are contradictory…As Republicans, and tea-party Republicans specifically–gain some measure of influence over policy, they’ll be forced to confront these trade-offs.

The tea parties’ leaders belong in this conversation.  If they have substantive contributions to the conversation, let’s hear them.  Ron and Rand Paul, Rick Santelli, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, any tea-party member…the ball’s in your court.

The solution in all cases is to keep the conversation going. We’ll convince Tea Partiers that the gold standard is bad in the same way that we’ll convince locavores that Chilean grapes are good: logic, evidence and a dogged insistence on keeping the lines of communication open.

I can already hear some snickering at my naivety and blind faith in persuasion. It’s not that I think persuasion can do anything; it’s that I think closure can accomplish almost nothing.

That’s Karl Smith writing at Ezra Klein’s blog.

My post yesterday defending tea-partiers hinged on the idea that their energy and enthusiasm could lead to productive policy improvements, if provided with serious ideas.  As if on cue, economist Brad DeLong has a serious proposal for balancing the budget.  His plan, which he calls “the platform for the bipartisan technocrats of the center”, restrictions on government spending, a relatively small (I think) carbon tax, and a small move towards privatization of social security.

A few technocrats of the center chime in, praising the plan, but calling it politically unviable, as if unaware that a large mobilization of voters is suddenly interested in balancing the budget.  My suggestion is simple: keep the plan intact, but change its name to “the platform for the tea-partiers”.  It’s worth a shot.

Anne Applebaum writes:

In theory, there could be a third way. If the Republican Party were serious about the deficit its leaders could, just for example, eliminate subsidies for farmers and homeowners. They could raise the retirement age and “privatize” Social Security. They could simplify our hideously complex income tax. They could impose a carbon tax instead. They could even do some of this together with President Obama. In practice, I’m afraid that for the next two years, we’ll be watching the Millers and the Murkowskis struggle for the soul of the party. As Alaska goes, so goes the nation.

A part of me has been quietly applauding the tea parties’ growth in influence, as evidence by my favorable linking to article that fail to fall in step with the barrage of criticism the parties have faced.  The tea parties’ stated policy goals–cut taxes, reduce the deficit, don’t cut any major spending programs–indeed are contradictory.  But all political philosophies face internal trade-offs.  As Republicans, and tea-party Republicans specifically–gain some measure of influence over policy, they’ll be forced to confront these trade-offs, and the results may prove promising.

If the tea-party movement leads to the re-emergence of a political party, or even a branch of a political party, that is actually fiscally conservative, I’d see that as a positive.  If, in the short-run, the Republican resurgence slows the Obama administration’s ability to enact further legislation, I think that’s okay.  And if increased political awareness and enthusiasm from conservative Americans leads to more thinking and talking about politics, that also sounds okay.  Thus, as a contrarian moderate I tentatively admit: I’m not particularly phased by the tea parties or their members’ increased power, and on the whole see the movement as a net gain for America.

In 2002, the debt increased by 5.5 percent and GDP by 1.3 percent. The corresponding figures for 2003 were 6.2 percent and 1.4 percent; for 2004, 5.7 percent and 3.4 percent; for 2005, 3.7 percent and 2.6 percent; for 2006, 3.4 percent and 2.9 percent; for 2007, 3.6 percent and 2.8 percent; for 2008, 5.0 percent and 2.0 percent; and for 2009, 5.5 percent and 2.6 percent. Since then of course the gap has widened, but that is because of the economic crisis. We would feel great if we were back in the Bush economy! Yet in every year of Bush’s Presidency, the deficit grew faster than GDP. That may be the “new normal.”

The status of the dollar as the international reserve currency, and the mercantilist policies of countries like China and Germany, will enable us to finance our growing deficit, and thus postpone the day of reckoning, for some time. But at some point the wheels may start coming off the chassis.

Still, life is full of surprises. The prospects for the United States looked grim in the 1970s and bright for Japan. Then Reagan was elected and the sky cleared here, and then the Japanese housing and banking bubbles burst and Japan entered the long period of economic stagnation in which it still finds itself. Maybe we’ll get lucky again.

Read the whole thing here.