Calling It Like I See It – Does The Current Version Of Conservative Principles Make Sense? Nope.

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Andrew Sullivan recently wrote a response to an op-ed by red-hot Massachusetts would-be Senator Scott Brown. Here is part of Sullivan’s rebuttal:

His [Scott Brown’s] Globe piece is presumably a good way to assess his platform. And it highlights all the bankruptcy of the current conservative establishment. Take a couple of issues. He starts by listing national problems:

Public debt has reached $12 trillion and counting, and Washington politicians want to borrow trillions more.

His solution?

My plan for the economy is simple: an across-the-board tax cut – in the tradition of John F. Kennedy – for families and businesses that will increase investment and lead to immediate new job growth. More tax increases will hurt our recovery. That’s why I have taken a no-new-tax pledge. My opponent will raise taxes.

Does anyone see the contradiction here? Without any tax increases, indeed with more tax cuts, the spending reductions required to reduce the debt will be fantastic: massive cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and defense. Where does he outline these spending measures? Nowhere. Fiscally, he’s as fraudulent as Bush.

E. D. Kain at True / Slant criticizes Sullivan’s opinion:

Sullivan objects to calls for tax cuts because that will, essentially, starve the beast, leading to “massive cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and defense.”  That this is not stated explicitly in Brown’s op-ed is immaterial.  Republicans have long believed that cutting taxes will lead to cutting spending. What they need to do now is elect fiscal conservatives instead of people like George W. Bush.  These cuts, after all, will be necessary unless we decide to shift course and adopt a social democratic model which I’m not sure the U.S. is ready to do at this point in history.

Moreover, judging the present policy positions of Republicans based on the poor fiscal record of George W. Bush is an odd approach.  Few Republicans will tell you that they are proud of the spending record during the eight years of the Bush administration. It seems like a strange response to that to say that because of their past failures to rein in spending, any present or future attempts to block Democratic legislative agendas are simply hypocritical.  Should they instead eschew fiscal conservatism altogether?  I fail to see the logic in this.

Except Sullivan is right. There is a serious disconnect with Republicans concerning fiscal policy. and government spending, and it’s on display right here. “Republicans have long believed that cutting taxes will lead to cutting spending.” It will???? Is there some sort of placebo effect going on here that I don’t know about? This is magical thinking, much like the belief in homeopathic medicine. President Warren G. Harding cut taxes in 1921, spending increased. JFK cut taxes, and spending increased. Reagan cut taxes, spending increased. Anyone else see a pattern here? Cutting taxes has never led to cuts in spending.

The graph is a comparison of government spending vs. economic growth, measured in Gross Domestic Product. You may look at this chart and see that spending flat lined after each of the tax cuts mentioned above, which should be interpreted as either spending cuts, or at least a freeze in spending. This is not correct.After each tax cut, spending still increased. But the economy grew as fast or even faster than the rate of government spending. And note that when the economy slows and goes into a recessionary period, the spending rate, suppressed in the graph because a the good economy, inevitably catches up. Long term positive economic trends, when they occur, whether caused by tax cuts or not, actually create enormous pressure on legislatures to increase government spending. The money is there and neither Democrats or Republicans have much of an incentive not to spend it. The first round of tax cuts by the Bush administration, designed to give back the surplus created during the Clinton / Gingrich years, was a move in the right direction. Too bad they lost this policy philosophy soon afterwards.

As for the other point by Kain – “Few Republicans will tell you that they are proud of the spending record during the eight years of the Bush administration.“. OK. Fine. So who is calling for a repeal of all the crappy gobs of extra bureaucracy enacted during the horrible Bush administration. Anyone hear Republicans calling for a repeal of the new Medicare-D entitlement? What about the failure that is No Child Left Behind? What about the ever bloated Department of Homeland Security, which, was shown only last month to be ineffective at stopping terrorist threats. The creation of the DHS added tons of inefective layers of bureaucracy where simply a few changes in the way law enforcement shares data would have done nicely. None of the major conservative mouthpieces are calling for the repeal of any of these Bush era expansions of government; not Limbaugh, not Levin, not Hannity, not Beck – and neither is candidate Scott Brown.

Only real actual cuts in spending lead to cuts in spending.  Period!

If this race were here in California instead of Mass., I would, based on my knowledge of both candidates, be inclined to vote for Brown over Coakley (see my previous post). But it wouldn’t be based on the dellusion that he would, by the virtues of being a conservative, actually do a damned thing to cut spending. No matter how much conservatives try to paint Bush’s as some sort of anomally to the conservative movement, he is pretty much par for the course.

FOOTNOTE:   I know it’s standard practice in economics, but I am very much against tying federal spending to GDP or GNP (Gross National Product) in order to justifydeficit spending. This practice has long stuck in my craw. It makes no sense to tie that to the amount of money the government can spend, as they neither generated that money, or have direct access to it. The are a small piece of the economic infrastructure. This would be like working for a large corporation, looking at the amount of profit they made durin gthe year, and basing my spending habits on their profit margin, instead of my actual income. The metric of fiscal health must be based soley on the actual income it colledts from taxes, fees, and the other direct forms of income it actually collects.

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