Posts Tagged ‘Tea Party’

Obama’s political failure

Monday, February 24th, 2014

FT Washington commentator Edward Luce has published a must-read column in today’s newspaper. Here is a short excerpt. Read the full op-ed at the link (free registration required).

Rarely has the gap between the public’s perception and that of economists been greater. A plurality of Americans say the [fiscal] stimulus was a bad idea, according to the Pew Research Centre. Almost all economists say it was essential. Some believe it was too small. Others that it was too large. Some say it should have been skewed towards more direct spending, others towards larger tax cuts. But virtually no accredited scholar doubts a measure that saved 9m jobs, added between 2 and 3 percentage points to US gross domestic product and paid for itself in higher tax revenues. On economic grounds it is as close to an open and shut case as you get.

On political grounds, the largest fiscal stimulus in history is close to being toxic. ….

Mr Obama’s political failing began in his first 100 days with his mis-selling of the stimulus. It helped give rise to the Tea Party that put an end to a sensible debate on what fiscal policy can do for US growth. In the president’s defence, it is hard to argue that “things could be so much worse!” – even if that was true of the stimulus. It is far easier to say: “See how rapidly things are getting better!”

The first was the case Mr Obama needed to make. He botched it. …. The US president assumed a good policy would make the case for itself. Republicans filled the vacuum with their own.

Edward Luce, “RIP Obama’s stimulus: funeral for a policy success“, Financial Times, 24 February 2014.

supporting scientific research

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

It is sad that Senator Tom Coburn is stepping down from the Senate because of ill health, but less sad that he is stepping down. The blend the Tea Party brew is rather weak for Mr Coburn, who believes research should be useful and has firm views of what is useful. ….

Mr Coburn’s greatest ire was reserved for the funding of political science. He believes that people who want to understand politics can watch Fox News – though he conceded that some might prefer to pay attention to CNN and MSNBC. Last year he tagged an amendment to an omnibus bill that blocked grant funding to academic research in this field. ….

Politicians can always win cheap laughs by reading out the titles of research projects they do not understand. In the early years of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, her minister Sir Keith Joseph tried to abolish the then Social Science Research Council but a report commissioned from Victor Rothschild failed to deliver the desired verdict.

Rothschild used the example of research on “kinship and sex roles in a Polish village”, a project description that had provoked much merriment in the UK public accounts committee. A respondent pointed out that the work showed how the inefficiency of fragmented land holdings increasingly tended by ageing women gave rise to economic cost and political tensions. We now know that such tensions grew in Poland in the following decade. And then the Berlin Wall came down. ….

Of course, there is a lot of bad and useless research. But … it is difficult to decide which research is useless or how research will influence our lives. The most immediate practical offshoot of particle physics research had nothing to do with particle physics at all: the worldwide web began as a means of enabling the scientists involved to keep in touch.

John Kay, “Philistines may carp but scientists should reach for the sky“, Financial Times, 19 February 2014. (ungated link)

Thomas Coburn (born 1948) is a Republican Senator from Oklahoma, medical doctor and Southern Baptist deacon. He is a social conservative who opposes gay rights and embryonic stem cell research, and supports term limits, gun rights and the death penalty.  Sir Keith Joseph (1918-1994), a Conservative politician, was influential in creating the political philosophy known as “Thatcherism”.

gridlock in the US Congress

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

I have been described as a centrist. ….  But sometimes, reality points firmly in one direction. ….

Consider what just happened on immigration …. The leadership of the Republican Party in Congress talked about a comprehensive reform package that would create a lengthy waiting time for citizenship — 13 years — and couple this with tougher enforcement. Most Democrats were willing to accept this compromise.

But it became clear to the GOP leadership that even this would be unacceptable for many tea party Republicans. So, on Jan. 30, party leaders circulated a new proposal …. Instead, these people would merely be given legal documents allowing them to work and pay taxes. This was a huge concession to tea party activists and seemed unlikely to go anywhere. Democrats had been firmly against the concept of permanent second-class status for illegal immigrants. A majority of the public opposes it as well.

But within a few days, President Obama … [made] clear he was not ruling out the proposal.
Every Democrat I spoke with hated the idea, for moral and political reasons. Most were surprised by Obama’s concession. So what happened? A few days later, House Speaker [Republican leader] John Boehner stood in front of the media and explained that even his new plan was a nonstarter and immigration reform was dead.

His explanation was that no one trusted Obama to enforce the laws. But in fact, the Obama administration has enforced immigration laws ferociously. It deported more than 400,000 people in 2012, 2½ times the number in 2002. ….

This suggests a bleak future for getting anything done in Washington. Immigration was supposed to be ripe for common-sense reform. The public is for a compromise solution, policy wonks have proposed ways to make it work, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports it, the country’s leading technology firms have been clamoring for it, senior Democrats and Republicans are in favor. And yet it couldn’t get past the central problem in Washington today: the extreme and obstructionist [tea party] faction within the Republican Party.

Fareed Zakaria, “The party of gridlock“, Washington Post, 14 February 2014.

Indian-American journalist Fareed Zakaria (born 1964) is editor-at-large of Time Magazine and host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS (Global Public Square). He is author of numerous books, including The Post-American World, Release 2.0 (W.W. Norton, 2011). I learned about this column while listening to a podcast of his  GPS show.

the appeal of libertarianism in the USA

Monday, January 13th, 2014

British journalist Edward Luce reports that libertarianism is popular among the youth of America.

Robert Nozick, the late US libertarian, smoked pot while he was writing Anarchy, State and Utopia. He would applaud the growth of libertarianism among today’s young Americans. Whether it is their enthusiasm for legalised marijuana and gay marriage – both spreading across the US at remarkable speed – or their scepticism of government, US millennials no longer follow President Barack Obama’s cue. Most of America’s youth revile the Tea Party, particularly its south-dominated nativist core. But they are not big-government activists either. If there is a new spirit in America’s rising climate of anti-politics, it is libertarian.

On the face of it this ought to pose a bigger challenge to the Republican party – at least for its social conservative wing. Mr Obama may have disappointed America’s young, particularly the millions of graduates who have failed to find good jobs during his presidency. But he is no dinosaur. In contrast, Republicans such as Rick Santorum, the former presidential hopeful, who once likened gay sex to “man on dog”, elicit pure derision.

Edward Luce, “The tide is rising for America’s libertarians“, Financial Times, 13 January 2014.

Continues at the link above. Mr Luce (born 1968) is FT’s Washington columnist. He is author of Time To Start Thinking: America and the Spectre of Decline (Little, Brown, 2012), published in the USA as Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2012).

populist anxieties

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

Dutch/British writer Ian Buruma examines populist fear of foreigners in the United States and the European Union.

People who suffer from these anxieties are often far removed from the consequences of what frightens them. Many Ukip [UK Independence Party] voters in the English shires do not encounter many immigrants. “Europe” is little more than a demonic abstraction.

What the followers of the Pied Pipers of popular resentment really hate, perhaps more than Muslims and other aliens, is their own so-called liberal elite – the educated mandarins and commentators, the bien pensant writers and academics, the left-of-centre internationalists, the cosmopolitans and the eggheads. In short, the people whose superior airs make them feel inadequate.

The common idea is that the liberal-left elites are destroying our identities – ethnic, national and religious. It was the liberal elites that allowed immigrants to “swamp” our cities, legally or illegally. It was they who built pan-European institutions and the UN. Liberals created welfare states, which reward the lazy and allow foreigners to sponge off our taxes. In the US, liberals elected a black president. And some Tea Party enthusiasts sincerely believe that the UN is robbing the US of its sovereignty (because of the liberals, of course).

Ian Buruma, “Globalisation is turning the west against its elites“, Financial Times, 14 December 2013.

Ian Buruma (born 1951) is Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College in New York City. He has authored numerous books, including Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance(Penguin, 2006) and Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents (Princeton University Press, 2010).

Buruma has lived in the US for some years, so uses the word “liberal” with its American meaning. In the United States ‘liberal’ means socialism or social democracy. In the rest of the world, ‘liberal’ implies limited government, free markets and freedom of thought.

a bright future for the Tea Party?

Monday, October 21st, 2013

FT Washington columnist Edward Luce (born 1968) writes that the Tea Party is succeeding, even though this does not please the British journalist.

Tea Partiers offer a never-ending supply of late night comic material. But insulting their IQ only improves the odds their Washington representatives will try again. It reinforces their worldview of a town run by Ivy League snobs. ….

The closest parallel to today’s Republican party is the late 19th century Democrats – the party of the defeated south. In spite of having lost the civil war, it managed to restore much of the reality of slave society through “Jim Crow” laws. Then, like now, Americans were living through a period of disruptive new technology, robber baron-scale inequality and unsettling mass immigration from non-English speaking cultures. The obstinacy of the so-called Dixiecrats persisted right up to the 1960s. ….

Mr Obama was right last week to say that he hoped the Republican party’s take-no-prisoners tactics would be replaced by something more constructive. The prospect of another three or four months of Tea Party fiscal attrition – followed by another deadline when the two sides fail to agree – is hardly uplifting. It could be the story of his second term. But hope is not a strategy. The Tea Party speaks for tens of millions of mostly non-urban whites, mostly middle-aged and older, who believe Mr Obama is redistributing their hard-earned nest eggs to younger, less deserving, Americans. Their embittered sense of alienation has driven a selfish and destructive politics in Washington. But it is not stupid. Consider this: all US domestic budget cuts to date – and they are steep – have fallen on the younger generations. Medicare and Social Security remain untouched. By that yardstick the Tea Party is succeeding. At any rate, its failure should never be assumed.

Edward Luce, “It is stupid to believe that the Tea Party has no brain“, Financial Times, 21 October 2013.

The parallel between Tea Party Republicans and Dixiecrats is a good one. Tea Partiers, like Dixiecrats before them, seek to weaken central government and strengthen states rights.


migration reform

Friday, October 18th, 2013

The weekend is beginning. Time for a fun post. Scott Sumner in this post manages to offend everyone!

Now that government is back in business it’s time to reform immigration.  Let the huddled masses in and encourage billionaires to get the hell out, and take their money with them.

It’s wrong to claim the GOP [Republicans] got nothing out of the shutdown, they did get more government spending on boondoggles:

It also includes an increase in authorization for spending on construction on the lower Ohio River in Illinois and Kentucky. The bill increases it to $2.918 billion.

    The Senate Conservatives Fund quickly called that language the “Kentucky Kickback,” and said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) secured that as the price of his support for the bill. Taxpayers for Common Sense says the bill would increase total authorized spending by $1.2 billion.

Surprises tucked in Senate bill“, Conservative Happenings, 17 October 2013.

Bastiat talked about “negative railroads.”  I consider Senators to be “negative billionaires.”

Scott Sumner, “Billionaires have a moral obligation to become tax exiles“, The Money Illusion, 17 October 2013.

Scott Sumner thinks that the wealthy have a moral obligation to become tax exiles and to give much of their wealth to the less fortunate. “Starving kids in Africa need the money much more that older Americans need a COLA [cost of living adjustment] in their Social Security benefits, and more than the military needs another $300 billion in fighter jets.”

Martin Wolf on the US debt ceiling

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

FT columnist Martin Wolf describes the US debt ceiling as “an invitation to mischief” that should not exist.

Some laws are too dangerous to be allowed to remain on the books. Take, for example, the US debt ceiling. It is the legislative equivalent of a nuclear bomb aimed by the US at itself, with the rest of the world within its blast radius. What must never be used should not exist. Regardless of the outcome of the current negotiations, the law needs to be repealed. Orderly government cannot be pursued under so destructive a threat. It is quite different from a partial government shutdown. Albeit foolish and unjust, that is just about manageable. Failure to lift the debt ceiling is not.

The imbroglio over the ceiling does have a darkly amusing side. Many will recall Republican insistence that “uncertainty” was thwarting economic recovery. Yet it is difficult to imagine policies better designed to create maximum uncertainty than a possible default by the world’s most important debtor. Asked about the consequences of a failure to reach a deal on the ceiling, Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, responded: “You don’t want to know.” But we must seek to know; the results would be calamitous.

Martin Wolf, “The debt-ceiling doomsday device“, Financial Times, 16 October 2013.

Those are the first two paragraphs of a superb column. There is much more at the link (free registration required).


vouchers for vets

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Why do Tea Party opponents of Obamacare not attack the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals, which are government-run, so pure socialism?  Obamacare, after all, works with private insurance companies and – at Republican insistence – does not offer the option of public insurance. Why not sell the VA hospitals and give veterans vouchers, which they can use to purchase private health insurance, just as school vouchers are used to purchase private schooling? (more…)

a question for opponents of Obamacare

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Bruce Webb, who blogs at Angry Bear, asks “Should every American have access to affordable health care?”.

Suppose your answer is a firm “No.”.

7) No. Health care is an economic good that should be delivered entirely according to ability to pay. As for that matter are food, shelter, and education. Maybe we should provide the bare minimum of each needed to sustain life but in the end I am not my Brother’s Keeper. If I choose to freely offer charity then fine. Otherwise not my problem. ….

Now I have reasoned responses to people who answer with some variant of answers 1 to 6 [“Yes, although not this particular way”]. ….

But if truth be told opponents are really starting from “No.” … then there is only one path left open to me. Because what is left over is no longer a question of economics but of fundamental moral world views.

To put the matter in a different light, if your answer to the question falls somewhere in the range of “Well universal access is an ideal, but one that can’t be achieved because of X, Y, or Z” then we have something to talk about. On the other hand if your answer is in the range of “Well no, that is not in fact a social good to be provided socially” then we are just talking at cross purposes. And supporters of ACA [Affordable Care Act] who turn around and ask “What then is YOUR solution?” are asking the totally wrong question. Because if there is no problem there is no needed solution. ….

Well alrighty then. At least that is an honest answer.

Bruce Webb, “A Question for Opponents of ACA/Obamacare“, Angry Bear, 5 October 2013.

Click on the link to read plausible answers 1 through 6, which I found very instructive.

I correspond regularly with an American economist who supports the Tea Party. On healthcare reform, our dialogue has been senseless because, I now realize, my friend’s answer to Mr Webb’s question would be a firm “No.” whereas mine would be an equally firm “Yes.”, preferably with a single payer. We have nothing to discuss, because of fundamental differences in our understanding of morality.