Most people like to assume that their representatives in the various levels of government spend each morning listening to very smart people tell them the latest information about our nation’s most important issues. That when they go into a debate about a bill, they have their facts ready but have minds open to new information. That when the evidence goes against what they previously believed, they change their opinions in order to help our nation be better.
In reality, what we get are political parties with platforms that must be held to by their members. The persistence of certain planks of these platforms has resulted in what economist Larry Summers coined as “now-more-than-everism,” which causes politicians to change their logic each election cycle in order to promote the same set of policies. We have a surplus? We should cut taxes. The economy is booming? We should cut taxes. The economy is in the worst downturn since the Great Depression? We should definitely cut taxes!
Here’s a quote from John Barrasso, U.S. Senator from Wyoming: “Decisions we make in Washington will have a tremendous impact on the future of our country. Now more than ever, Republicans must show that we have the right policy solutions that will benefit every American.” Senator Barrasso advocates lowering taxes and has voted against all stimulus packages while in office. Yesterday, U.S. Senate Republicans re-elected John Barrasso to serve as chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee. As in, he’s the one in charge of the group of Republicans that will decide what policies the party puts forward for the next two years.
The problem is that one solution really can’t fix all problems. That isn’t to say that supply-side policies are never needed: if the economy ever reached a point where demand is outstripping supply and no companies are building factories to match that demand, it would make sense to alter the tax code to promote investment by those with large amounts of capital. With that said, that situation does not match the conditions of the current economy, where companies are discovering that consumers are buying less than they expect and Chinese factories would gladly ramp up production if demand increased.
China is one of the largest contributors to the free market and yet is considered a Communist nation. Several countries in Europe are both higher on economic freedom indexes than the United States but also provide universal socialized healthcare to their citizens. Perhaps the United States could benefit from moving away from this black-and-white universe where there are two options, they’re the same every election cycle, and we switch between them every time things turn for the worse. Maybe we would be better off if our parties actually acted like adults and admitted that policies from each others’s platforms are what is needed at different times.
The problem with this line of reasoning is of course ideology. Every election cycle further demonstrates that people have strong beliefs about the size and role of government, and you can imagine the response people would have to their representatives compromising to the “other side.” This leads to politicians being content with the status quo, even if they personally feel like they should work with the members of the other party (see also: every moderate Republican’s stances during President Obama’s first term). For things to change, the voting public needs to become more accepting of bipartisanship when it makes sense. You know, now, more than ever.