Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Core Principle of Today’s Conservative Ideology Is Its Fatal Flaw

Conservatives blame their 2012 electoral loss on poor “messaging” and “ground game” while also maintaining that they must not abandon their core principles.  Unfortunately, they are, again, self-deluded, because it is their driving principle that makes their ideology irrelevant to problems in the real world.  Their driving principle, the pursuit “smaller government,” is also their ideology’s fatal flaw.

Why?  Because using the requirement of “smaller government” as a litmus test to all policy-making ensures that today’s conservatives will opt for the wrong policies virtually always, especially in the areas of environmental protection and social safety nets.  Oddly, the main instance in which today's conservatives choose to violate the litmus test of “smaller government” is when it comes to war; they are willing to cast their “smaller government” ideology aside when a war beckons.  They call it “national security.”

Why does the core belief in “smaller government” guarantee wrong policies for the environment and social safety nets?  For the simple reason that the interventions required to address, for example, environmental problems such as deforestation, air and water pollution, and climate change, require the government to do something.  It has to regulate or tax in order to discourage carbon emission and other pollution.  (The private sector will not do this in any meaningful way on its own.)  When the government does a new thing, it becomes more powerful, and, in a way, bigger.  Even if it does not mean spending, it is interfering in our lives.  That violates today's conservatives' most precious principle.

The ideological conservatives cannot allow that.  But they also cannot admit that they are neglecting a problem that can devastate our country.  So, the only thing left to them is to pretend that the problem does not exist.  “Global warming is a hoax.”  "Taxes must always go down and never up."  Therefore, lopsided income distribution is ok; it’s a result of the free market.  "The federal government cannot spend more on safety nets."  Therefore, we should provide only vouchers to people on Medicare and privatize Social Security.  In other words, take the security and peace of mind out of these programs.  And so it goes.

This way of thinking is commonplace and is obstructing solutions to our nation’s problems.  There needs to be more voices to expose this fundamental flaw in the way today’s conservatism operates.  If not, our problems will continue to gain ground despite the best intentions of progressives.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What’s so wrong with being an ideologue?

Politicians are sometimes labeled as “ideological.”  It is a label intended to damn.  But being labeled an ideologue usually does not put the person on the defensive.  On the contrary, “ideologue” is worn as a badge of honor, particularly for many Republicans.  It says, “we stand by our principles no matter what.”

This label lacks sting because people think that it simply means being constant in one’s beliefs. Others might think it’s the same as being conservative because the label is used mainly against conservatives.  They don’t generally focus on the fatal flaw of the ideological approach.  

The fatal flaw of the ideologue is the pursuit of a particular policy prescription even when the context of that policy guarantees that it will fail.  The most common example in the political realm today is ideology in tax policy:  taxes can only be cut, and can never be raised.  This ideological stance has its clearest expression in the pledge (promoted by anti-tax lobbyist, Grover Norquist) that elected officials have signed never to raise taxes, regardless of the circumstances. 

But what are the prospects of success of a tax cut or even avoiding a tax increase:  (i) If the country has a serious debt problem?  (ii) If the debt increase is, in substantial measure, because of a drop in revenue?  (iii) If the income tax share of GDP is historically low, much lower than during high economic growth periods?  (iv) If the recipients of most of the tax cut are relatively wealthy and, therefore, are highly unlikely to spend a significant portion of it?  These are the circumstances today.  We learned previously from George W. Bush’s tax cuts, which were implemented under conditions that were more favorable to tax cuts than they are today, that they were more costly than beneficial.

To some people, it is ok if you are an ideologue.  You press on with the ideological position.  The country suffers and its national security is damaged through fiscal weakness, but you dismiss it with a slogan or a false claim about the free market.  In reality, labeling someone an ideologue is a condemnation, tantamount to calling someone ignorant or delusional.  The label is not meant as an innocuous acknowledgement that someone has strongly held beliefs. 

Next post—The crux of the conservative ideology and its fatal flaw.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Obama's Hand--Straight Flush or Jack High?

We should be cautious about critiquing President Obama's methods.  After all, he had a historically successful first term.  But one has to wonder why he caved on the $250,000 income threshold.  Instead of 2% percent of Americans' taxes going up, it's going to be only 0.6%. 

This is not a game where progressives make Republicans cry "uncle;" it's an effort to close the deficit to a sustainable level.  Yes, the Republicans finally caved, though by default only, on their ideological position.  But how much revenue was lost by unnecessarily raising the tax cut threshold to $450,000?

Fiscally responsible Americans can only hope that when spending starts to be cut, there's another trimming of tax goodies for the upper income.