Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Truth Behind the Pay Wall: Seib Describes Rival American Political Philosophies

WSJ's Gerald Seib, always as mild and moderate as lowfat vanilla yogurt, today offers as apt a description as one can imagine of the contrasting fiscal philosophies of Our Republic's only two political parties. As it's behind the pay wall, we quote from our privileged position as a Kindle subscriber:

Democrats see the governments' [sic] role edging up as the nation ages and its economy matures. Moreover, they see that as the inevitable and desirable evolution of a nation making good on its social compact with a graying population and competing in a global economy where state-directed economies such as China's use the power of government to prevail.

Republicans watch those same trends and recoil from what they see as a nation drifting away from its traditional economic moorings and toward the inherently flawed models of a socialist Europe and a mercantilist China. They see a social compact that needs to be trimmed as the economy matures and a government role in the economy that shouldn't grow to compete with China but rather be curtailed to differentiate the American model from the Chinese one.

Indeed! And, we add to the last sentence, to continue on the path that historically and universally has produced more prosperity for more people than its competitors, both in the United States and elsewhere.

Seib is as evenhanded as he can be with this, really a model of journalistic neutrality (and note well that he continues to work for WSJ long after Evil Genius Rupert Murdoch's sinister takeover). Some with weak constitutions may respond by saying, "Well, both sides have good things to say. Who can determine who's right in this? I'll just vote for the best candidate."

Wrong. Given that politics and economics is as much art as science, one is compelled to say that the obvious bet is to bet on oneself and people like oneself. Citizenship, not client-patron relations, makes us happier, healthier, wealthier, and wiser. Vote for the people who affirm your adulthood. Blame the people who infantilize you.

And so one party says that we much tax the rich more so that we can include the rich amongst the clients of government patronage, never means-testing entitlements or stifling crony-capitalistic ventures that we label "investments in our future." The other plans to not so much to starve the middle man as put him on a diet.


Anthony Jones said...

Would the Republican party be liberal enough to pass necessary regulations that have been passed over time, such as minimum wage, labor laws that prevent overworking and child labor, etc. that protect people? I see the benefits of capitalism but looking at something like the food industry, where the U.S. allows the sell of foods that contain chemicals that would make those foods illegal in most countries simply to benefit the corporate folks in control of that industry, makes me kind of sick. Things like that, along with gun issues and protection of the environment and things like that, keep me in the "moderate" category instead of just conservative - people are too easily abused by the few in powerful positions when there isn't a regulating force of some kind.....this is all more of a question to hear a take from a compassionate conservative with Christian ideals than it is a statement of argument. thoughts?

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

It's always a question of balance, of course. But there's also a question of overriding philosophy: are we better off as clients of a patronizing state, victims in need of rescue?

One could take some of the issues you raise and discuss them individually. Minimum wage, for example: do people need to be protected from low wages, or can they simply refuse to take low-wage jobs (remember that minimum-wage laws don't compel anyone to hire someone, so effectively they eliminate jobs that might otherwise exist and at least pay something)? Are consumer products best regulated by government or by voluntary self-regulation among producers (as, for instance, higher education, medicine, law, and various others are)? We too often assume that there is no check on behavior other than government.

But note well the present issue, which is all we really discuss: are ALL present federal functions, having been expanded by about 25% in the last two years, so vital that they need to be maintained at the cost of 5% of the economy? Were we so bad off in the past that we ought to commandeer more of people's money in the future to fix things, believing that politicians spend money better than citizens? We think the question answers itself.

JB in CA said...

From http://www.csbaonline.org/publications/2010/06/fy-2011-defense-budget-analysis/: However, defense spending as a percent of GDP is 4.8 percent in the FY 2011 budget request, below the post-World War II average of 6.5 percent.

Tom_Ky said...

I agree with the SWNID about minimum wage - in free markets, the individual has alternatives, not beholden to one job option, but rather hundreds of job options. Recent experience with a housekeeper to surprise my wife proved very costly - much higher than minimum wage - for someone to run a vacuum across the floor. Why was her price so high? Supply and demand.

I do take issue with the "...the people know better how to spend their money" argument, because if they did, then government wouldn't need to exist at all. I refer you to James Madison's quote about men being angels...

The people do not know better than the government about public goods or those processes that require greater collective action, like how to build up a significant infrastructure, regulate financial institutions (go back in time a few years to see that self-regulation is a disaster in certain situations), put a man on the moon, and conduct research and development, just to name a few.

It was Jimmy Carter's chair of Economic Advisers who said, "Harnessing the 'base' motive of material self-interest to promote the common good is perhaps the most important social invention mankind has achieved," - Having said that, the small business owner and the Proctor and Gamble's of the world can get over themselves, because it is government that lowers the cost of doing business by building roads, providing security and a stable utility system. As President Obama said when pining how China now has high speed rail* and the world's best super computer, "That used to be us". We won't be that way again, until we realize that the markets don't work properly without government intervention, and government alone can't solve problems. There is a mix and that mix is critical.

House looks great by the way.

*I know the SWNID's inefficiency position on high speed rail and I agree with the inefficiency. But it is one policy that if I could snap my fingers and make real, it would be thus. There are some things that government does that I don't care if it's as efficient as a Fortune 500 company. Defense and education are at the very top of that list - and high speed rail would be top 5.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Tom, we say honestly that we tire of this false debate as if our insistence on the efficiency of markets somehow marginalized governmental action on defense or infrastructure. This is not a remedial government course for semiliterate undergrads in which we need to defend every function of government.

But balance, yes? And priorities, yes? And an honest look at efficiencies? And honest accounting, that rejects the ever expanding, sacrosanct "baseline expenditures" budget. And consideration as to why suddenly some say it's imperative for the feds to take 20% more than they've historically taken?

So, infrastructure. Sure. Are bridges to nowhere a good idea? No. Agreed: thoughtful, informed balance needed. Politicians tend to overspend other people's money.

So, defense. Sure. But do we need every citizen under arms? That's purely for illustration, against both defense enthusiasts who will back any defense expenditure and hyper-Keynesian absurdity that imagines public and private jobs are somehow equivalent.

These questions answer themselves, of course, which is why we intend not to be distracted by them again.

The actual matters on the table have to do with things that have historically been the purview of private citizens' individual decision-making and responsibility. Like providing a measure of financial security for their future, or insuring their health, or the like.

We won't be defending a moderate free-market approach again in these comments, baited by insistence that government has a legit function. SWNID is no anarchist, not even a very good libertarian.

But the debate has shifted hard to the left in the last decade. The Ds have tried since 1933 to pass national health insurance, and they finally did. Actuaries have been pointing out the Ponzi-scheme math of Social Security for as many years, and now that the reality is too close to bear, the Ds insist that means-testing benefits and moving back the retirement age to reflect just a fraction of extended life expectancies is "breaking the social contract."

And to the original question, which we find unaddressed by any of the comments so far, the description of the two parties' political philosophies as they exist in the present debate and whatever their respective hypocrisies, has not been better characterized than by Mr. Seib.

And the conclusion is virtually self-evident. At present, one path leads to short-term hardship, but the other leads to disaster.