Conservatism Is The Problem:
“Redistribution” is not a matter of first principles and anyone who tells you otherwise is mistaken. All fiscal policy is redistributive, in that it involves collecting taxes from someone and spending money on programs that benefit someone else. And the question of how progressive that redistribution ought to be depends on outside factors, such as the relative economic cost of various kinds of taxes and the level of pre-tax inequality.
Changes in economic conditions should change people’s preferences about the level of fiscal progressivity. For example, if returns to economic growth increasingly accrue to people at the top of the income distribution, we should become more favorable to progressive redistribution. If the economy becomes more fragile, with more risk of recessions that lead to years-long spells of high unemployment, that calls for a more robust and progressively-financed safety net. And if top income tax rates are well below the peak of the Laffer Curve, that creates more room for added progressivity.
As it happens, these are all conditions that have manifested over the last thirty years, and especially the last five — and they’re why I favor a more redistributive fiscal policy than I used to. Conservatives are wrong on this issue, and outside conditions have shifted over time in a way that has made them much more wrong than they used to be.
As Barro notes, the The Republican Party today is in a situation very similar to the British Labour Party back in the ’80s. Being too extreme made the socialists in the Labour Party ineffective both at winning elections and at enacting policies. If the GOP can become more moderate, it can again be an effective opposition party to the Democrats going forward.
Republicans’ New Welfare Queens | New Republic:
Is Sessions a math dunce? No, he just subscribes to an unrecognizably maximalist definition of “welfare,” one that includes every single federal program that’s means-tested. He includes Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, usually described as health care programs, which account for nearly half his total. He also includes Pell grants, job training programs, and various other functions that are “welfare” in roughly the same sense that all government spending is “socialism.” By stretching welfare’s meaning until it has almost none, Sessions is able to calculate the total welfare tab not at an underwhelming $96 billion, but at $746 billion, which is indeed more than the tab for Social Security, or Medicare, or defense. Then he adds in the state-funded part of these programs so he can say the total exceeds $1 trillion.
I’m sure that many conservatives and libertarians do subscribe to the belief that any means-tested program is basically welfare. It’s interesting to see the extent to which there’s a “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” effect going on – how many white Americans with a thing against welfare have children getting free school lunches or attending private schools because of voucher programs or are actually receiving welfare?
Oh right, about the same number as blacks. [Yes, I’m implying that much of the ire against welfare is based on racism.]
Republicans are putting themselves in a weird position for the coming elections. They’re already associated with 47% rhetoric (GOP strategists must love Mitt Romney). They’ve lost the black and likely the Latino vote for at least another few election cycles. They rail against welfare despite the fact that a significant portion of the remaining electorate even considering voting for them is taking advantage of the programs they claim they would do away with (or which would have to be eliminated to make up for magic asterisks in their budget proposals). They’ve completely lost the youth vote (compare the GOP of today to Reagan, who won the youth vote by 20 points in 1984). How does this party stay relevant when they no longer represent any major demographic?
Aaron David Miller:
And one of the reasons is that Barack Obama has cornered their market and stolen pages from the GOP playbook. Obama has become a George H.W. Bush realist when it comes to avoiding ideological overreach, and a much more effective and less ideological version of Bush the younger too: willfully surging in Afghanistan, killing Osama, and whacking 10 times the number of bad guys with drones than his predecessor. He may well be the American president who just doesn’t talk about containing Iran’s nuclear program, but uses military power against it. One reason the Chuck Hagel fight has been so bitter is that former senator is the poster child for a Republican realism that some in the party detest. In many ways, that nomination fight says more about the state of the Republican Party than it does about the Hagel candidacy itself.
How much longer can the Republican party go on actively opposing its own members who try to base their policies on reality and reason? How far must a party fall before the public stops giving them the time of day?