A New Can Of Worms
22 August 2003
Is The Conservative Coalition on the Verge of Another Crack-up?
Bruce Bartlett takes aim at the Neo-Cons and Big Government Conservatisim:
In a new essay in the Weekly Standard (edited by Irving’s son Bill), Kristol explains what he was trying to do: “To convert the Republican Party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy.” Most important, this meant making peace with the state — accepting the inevitability of big government, but using conservative insights to improve its operation.
Kristol’s essay should be read together with an article by Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes in the Wall Street Journal on August 15. He argues that neoconservatism is essentially big-government conservatism, which means, “using what would normally be seen as liberal means — activist government — for conservative ends.” He adds that neoconservatives are “willing to spend more and increase the size of government in the process.” Barnes concludes, approvingly, that George W. Bush is a big-government conservative....
..."Unfortunately, I think Barnes is right. Bush is a big-government conservative. This reinforces my belief that he is more of a Richard Nixon than a Ronald Reagan. I just hope we don’t suffer the same consequences. "
I disagree entirely with the notion that President Bush is Richard Nixon on so many levels that I'm not even going to address it. Moreover, I don't see the relationship between the necessities of running a big democracy and "big government." George W. Bush has spent money, I think, for practical electoral purposes more than anything. It is something I disagree with, but I don't believe he's some kind of liberal. Moreover, many of programs the President has signaled support for in the long run deliver better services in a more efficient manner by using the strength of the markets. Bush's vision is more akin to government as the middle-man as opposed to the nanny state.
One of the reasons George W. Bush is despised by the Democrats is because they believe making government the middle man threatens their trough. When market oriented programs begin surpassing the nanny state in popularity, they fear, the people will demand we cut out the middle man entirely. You know what? I hope they are right.
Part of me wants to dismiss a lot of this carping on the right as simply a general pessismistic strain in the movement or just plain anger at winning.
21 August 2003
The Liars Club?
As a little experiment I looked at the final roll call votes on the major tax increases in the Spring Session of the Illinois General Assembly and compared it to Americans for Tax Reform's list of Illinois members who signed a pledge not to raise taxes. The Pledge reads:
"I, ____________, pledge to the taxpayers of the _____ district of the State of _________ and to all the people of this state, that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes."
The major tax legislation in Illinois was as follows:
SB 1606 – raised casino taxes by $200M
SB 1634 – Eliminated research and development tax credits
SB1733 – Imposed new tax on out of state natural gas purchased in IL
SB 0842 – Excise and motor fuel tax hikes
Pledge signers are below. The list I retrieved the names from was the June 3rd 2003 update. I’ve listed the tax bills the members supported next to their names.
1. James “Pate” Philip (S-23)
2. Kirk Dillard (S-24)
3. Chris Lauzen (S-25)
4. Wendell Jones (S-27)
5. Susan Garrett (S-29) S 1606,
6. Dave Syverson (S-34)
7. Ed Petka (S-42)
8. John Jones (S-54)
9. Ralph Capparelli (H-15) SB 1606, SB 1634, SB 1733, SB 842
10. Robert S. Molaro (H-20) SB 1634, SB 1733, SB 842
11. Robert Biggins (H-41)
12. Patricia Bellock (H-47)
13. Kathleen Wojcik (H-56)
14. Jack Franks (H-63)
15. David Winters (H-68) SB 1606, SB 1634, SB 1733, SB 842
16. Ron Wait (H-69)
17. Michael Boland (H-71) SB 1733,
18. John Philip Novak (H-79) SB 1606, SB 1634, SB 1733, SB 842
19. Richard Myers (H-94) SB 1606,
20. Joe Dunn (H-96)
21. Gary Hannig (H-98) SB 1606, SB 1634, SB 1733, SB 842
22. Julie Curry (H-101)
23. Ron Stephens (H-102)
24. Steve Davis (H-111) SB 1606, SB 1634, SB 1733, SB 842
25. Mike Bost (H-115) SB 1606
Now, while it hardly matters whether or not these were the final votes, since the pledge reads that these members signed a written pledge to vote against any and all tax increases, I am open to corrections.
9 of 24 (I exclude "Pate" Phillip) broke the pledge. Welcome to Illinois!
When challenged, I'm sure these members will argue that we need to look at their whole record on taxes. Or, they'll argue it would have been irresponsible to not increase taxes given the budget climate. That's BS!
With regard to responsibility, they signed a written pledge. The budget situation was well documented when they signed. And even if on the outside chance these legislators were caught unaware, they still had to realize that someday they would be faced with a budget shortfall.
Their record on taxes is irrevelevant because it is not just taxes, here. They took an oath and they broke it. It could have been on any other policy issue out there. The bottom line is that they broke a solemn pledge. Their trust is broken. Moreover, they were more willing to take the positive press or use the pledge in one-on-ones with voters to their own advantage or take the other myriad campaign opportunities the pledge afforded them. Well.... as they say, "The worm turns..."
20 August 2003
More on Kristol and the Neo-con Persuasion
Dormouse Dreaming linked to my post earlier this week on The NeoConservative Persuasion by Irving Kristol. A number of bloggers tooks stabs at their own definitions and criticisms of neo-cons which left Markus at Dormouse Dreaming a little empty. Here's my take on the persuasion, which I write not to change minds, defend or combat any competing, but as an attempt to lay out and hopefully clarify some things.
Let me first admit to being heavily influenced by the neo-cons, I would not be considered one but I worked with some in DC while at the Center for Security Policy in my early twenties. So you may wish to take what I briefly lay out for you with a grain of salt. In the Preface of Neo-Conservatism: The Auto-biography of an Idea Kristol suggests that neo-conservatism as a descriptive kind of conservative as opposed to a prescriptive conservative. A prescriptive conservative being one who has a basic policy formula to define him/her: free markets, religion or realism (in international relations). With neo-cons we are describing a conservative disposition. That’s probably a better place to begin, rather than the Weekly Standard article on the same topic.
The Neo-cons identification with the Republican Party is more a product of history than a coherent line of reasoning. They like Reagan, who is a few years older than Kristol, supported FDR and the New Deal. They tended to be from the city, intellectual, internationalist and lower to middle-class economically. They went to Catholic Churches and Jewish Synagogues and had a healthy respect for religion. Republicans of their day were middle to upper class, predominant in the small towns in the East and Midwest, and were anti-intellectual. Republicans worshipped in Protestant churches as well as at the alter of balanced budgets.
Many of the neo-cons did flirt with socialism, and we still see the influence today of the scientific socialism of the 30’s in the empirical nature of the neo-conservatives research – think James Q. Wilson, Senator Moynihan and Ben Wattenberg. And today, we still see that many traditional conservatives are still openly hostile to intellectualism.
By 1965 many of the neo-con thinkers were no longer at home or welcomed in an academic environment increasingly being taken over by the counterculture. Kristol describes it as open hostility. The Neo-cons also did not agree with the excesses of the Great Society because they believed LBJ’s programs threatened the foundations of the traditional family. They were right, but the neo-cons remained loyal Democrats. But, by 1972 the Democratic Party had become a hodge podge of narrow minded isolationist leftists who actively sought to turn every argument in politics, economics and the sciences into questions of values that they wished to overthrow and replace with their hyper-political leftist values. It was here that the neo-cons were mugged by reality – the reality that they held bourgeois values.
By bourgeois values I mean, not only middle class values, but the ideas that informed both 19th and 20th century liberalism and the search for truth. Liberty and the pursuit of happiness were out, to the New Left those were just the preferences of the ancien regime used to oppress them. The New Left wanted nothing to do with these values, because they stood in the way of remaking society in their own image. The neo-cons, on the other hand, still believed in such things as the search for truth as much as they understood that as intellectuals they were standing on the shoulders of those who came before them. In academica, the New Left, asserted that they had the truth, and that the "old truths" had to be destroyed and replace with their own, what can be easily described as nihilistic, truths.
Shunned by the culture of academy and the Democrat Party, by the mid-seventies many of these neo-cons began to turn their intellectual attention to the mainstream society and the Republican Party. Yet, that party was still anti-intellectual, still held in the spell of balanced budgets, and had a southern base still hostile to the civil rights movement. The neo-conservatives began writing in our magazines and journals applying rigorous thinking on such subjects as foreign policy and economic issues. In other words, according to Kristol, the neo-cons played a role in modernizing the party.
Their President was Ronald Reagan. He was the first Republican President since Teddy Roosevelt to speak optimistically about the future, instead turning back the clock. He abandoned the balanced budget as the holy grail of fiscal policy and replaced it with economic growth. Reagan never abandoned a balanced budget in theory, but he recognized that economic growth was more important to the well being of the US. High rates of government spending was crowding out the private economy where capital was its most productive. Critics contended that the high interest rates caused by the deficits crowed out the private sector. Reagan's response was, Well, if high interest rates caused by deficits crowd private activity why doesn't high rates of taxation and government spending crowd out private activity? Economic growth and spending restraint were Reagan's goals. He got the former, alas he fell short on the latter -- but not for lack of trying.
Reagan also supported a bourgeois culture. His heir was Newt Gingrich in 1994, and Newt’s gauntlet has been picked up by President George W. Bush, today. Ronald Reagan said that he never left the Democrat Party, it abandoned him.
When you look at the Democratic Party of FDR you see a party (not necessarily policy) that was forward looking, optimistic and internationalist. By the early 1970’s the Democrat party had become a pessimistic about the future, statist and isolationist. They were, and still to this day, anti-intellectual in the sense they will not allow their shibboleths to be challenged. The constant charges of racism or facism at the '68 Democrat convention in Chicago are just as common today as they were 30 years ago -- only today they have become institutionalized in the Democratic Party. It has become, in fact, (most of) the Republican Party today that is optimistic, dynamic and forward looking as well as internationalist -- a place far more hospitable to this group of intellectuals.
Looking for a set of core values in the neo-conservative movement is tricky at best. Kristol believes that the Anglo-Scottish englightenment and the natural rights components of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are good places to start. And I believe he shares the Anglo-Scots cautious approach to the enlightenment over French Enlightenment thinkers of the late 18th Century.
With regard to foreign policy, looking at events in today's middle east might obscure more than enlighten because of its ongoing nature. The Cold War might be a better place to look because the lines are more clear with the passing of history. The neo-cons approach is tough and realistic -- roll back the Soviet Union because everything they say and do is designed to challenge the US, but they were also mindful and supportive of what Walter MacDougall identifies as the Crusader State mentality of US foreign policy -- our evangilistic support for democratic institutions. Neo-cons, being acutely aware of the human need for freedom, see democratic institutions as a weapon against tyrants and a way to help citizens create better lives for themselves.
With regard to being mired in the middle east, The US and the West in general has been mired in the middle east since colonial times. As Bernard Lewis says, "Get tough or get out." I think that is what the US has done since 9/11, yet it is still intent on helping to establish a more democratic regime in the region as a weapon against tyranny and as a way of helping the people of Iraq create better lives for themselves. It is just a tough, messy and dangerous endeavor with a lot tyrants in the region doing all they can to undermine it.
19 August 2003
Hot Rod for Veep???
"Sneed hears Gov. Blagojevich's top politicos claim the Guv is seriously hoping to get the nod for veep in 2004."
Dan Quayle, The Sequel
Backlash Against Gay Marriage Continues
AP publicizes results of a poll showing that the backlash against gay marriage continues:
"More than half of Americans favor a law barring gay marriage and specifying wedlock be between a man and a woman, an Associated Press poll found.
The survey also found presidential candidates could face a backlash if they support gay marriage or civil unions, which provide gay couples the legal rights and benefits of marriage"
Since a number of democratic candidates have already supported the issue, and undoubtably numerous democrat candidates for legislative offices will, we may see this as a wedge issue in the upcoming elections. Although, I should point out that two polls don't make a trend.
The crux for Democrats revolves around money. If you come out with the 50 percent plus that opposes gay marriage, do you lose some substantial party contributors?
18 August 2003
Another Public Good Bites the Dust
Lynne Kiesling over at The Knowledge Problem has an excellent run down on the blackout stories and some cool ideas of her own. It is very much worth taking the time to venture over to her blog.
One thing I can laugh about in this whole episode is that just before the blackout, and the subsequent loss of his site, ArchPundit and I had some exchanges regarding public goods and market failures that grew out of a discussion of John Ashcroft and pornography (don't ask). I was sidetracked for a few days and was unable to get back to him. His final comment claimed that any intelligent person knows that the market fails to provide "public goods" resulting from "market failures" that need government to step in and correct the situation.
The debate, as he frames it, is simply over what we want to define as public goods and what they can fix. He claims that this is the consensus position and accused me of being a post-modern creationsist, or something like that, for having the termerity to disagree with him and side with such "unintelligent" thinkers such as Hayek (Friedrich not Selma) and von Mises. Well, maybe on his side the debate is over (Hell, there are still those on the left who believe everything is a public good and nothing should be left to the "vagaries of the market"), but the rest of us have moved on...
For example, in her analysis of the state of the electricity industry Lynne Kiesling takes down another "natural monopoly" today. Here is the bottome line:
"Technological change and market dynamics have made the natural monopoly model of electricity regulation obsolete. While technological changes and market innovations that shape the electricity industry’s evolution have received some attention, their roles in making natural monopoly regulation of transmission and distribution obsolete have not received systematic treatment. For that reason, the policy debate has focused on creating regional transmission organizations to rationalize grid construction, but has not dug more deeply into the possible benefits of dramatically rethinking the foundations of natural monopoly regulation. Last week’s blackout suggests that this rethinking of natural monopoly is long overdue."
We've seen in recent years the beginning of the end of another natural monopoly -- telecommunications. That industry has a number of similarities to the power industry, yet it has been deregulated more efficiently. I'm not completely happy with the way it has gone, but nonetheless we have done a better job in telecom than in the energy sector. (Another famous natural monopoly relied upon by the welfare economists, lighthouses, were discredited more than 25 years ago as an example of public goods -- in fact the guy who did so won Nobel for it.)
There is also the principle-agent problem that demonstrates how government can fail to provide public goods because a bureaucracy has its own interests to protect. These interests often can run afoul of the public good. Over at Asymmetrical Information (many thanks to The Knowledge Problem's blog role) we find evidence that the blackout could have been easily caused by overly burdensome regulation. Wholesale power production has been deregulated while the transmission lines are still heavily regulated she points out. Guess where the problem was? So much for government correcting market failures... (actually we can't say that, yet, but there is apparently a correlation)...
(Speaking of asymmetrical information, That is the market critique that conveys sellers have an advantage in knowledge over buyers. Since perfect information doesn't exist in this relationship we need a bureacracy to correct that asymmetry. Yet, asymmetric information can also be corrected by institutions other than government. How about the warranty on that used car you once purchased? Much of the information in a market necessary to make just about any purchase can be communicated through price and competition is the view of one school of economists. Moreover, perfect information about anything is just plain impossible. This is a bogus argument, no one is claiming ominipotence -- well maybe the champions of the nanny state still are.)
Just as technological change and market dynamics have changed the way energy markets work, they've changed the ways we look at phenomena such as the market itself. Because of the rise of competition in the meritocracy our institutions of higher learning (and let's not forget the think tanks!) churn out more and brighter thinkers than ever before. Technology - a fruit of this process -- has allowed us access to the products of these thinkers in greater amounts with greater speed. We can look at phenomena such as alleged market failures through more powerful measuring devices than we had in the decades prior to the 80's. That give us a much better glimpse of reality than did the proponents of central planning that made up the welfare economists of the WWII era. And it is why welfare economics is going the way of the flat earthers. Clearly, the consensus no longer exists.