Scott Gillette, an old pal of mine who is currently doing mysterious business in Qatar, resides in a political place somewhere to the right of mine. As such, he took issue with my most recent allusion to the Great Depression. I’m going to let him say his piece from the Middle East. As you read, keep in mind the following questions. These are not meant to be pointed score-points-in-a-debate type questions, but just things I would like to see expanded upon so we can get past what I suspect Scott thinks is boilerplate in my arguments and I see as boilerplate in his:
1. Has the country really “turned leftward?” I see this as so much propaganda. Yes, we elected a Democrat, but being a Democrat does not equal being a liberal, no matter what the right would have you believe. Obama is certainly not a liberal. Nor has the true progressive left gotten what it has wanted out of Obama, like a public option in the health care bill, repeal of DADT, a true jobs bill, accountability for Bush-era miscreants, and so much more. Just today we got more drilling. This is NOT a liberal or left-leaning administration.
2. Scott says that taxes are a disincentive to economic growth. I suppose it’s accepted that they are, and yet, I’m not sure what taxes he’s referring to. Nor am I sure that this is correct. In the 1950s, the top marginal income tax rate was something like 90 percent, and yet GDP grew fairly steadily throughout the ’50s and into the ’60s.
3. As is popular, Scott waves Greece at us. If we do X or don’t do Y we’re going to turn into Greece. Is the situation in Greece really analogous to our own?
Now, here’s Scott:
Response to Things We Read Today: Holy Prophets Edition:
There was a line in your blog that immediately grabbed my attention:
As I keep saying, we’ve been having the same danged argument about philosophy of government for more than three-quarters of a century. Whichever way we come down on it, we need to get past it and get on with the business of running the place.
Yes, this is the same “danged argument”, no doubt. But the argument has to occur, over and over again. First of all, members of a free society will always differ about the size and scope of government. Second, and more to the point, different eras require different policies about the proper balance between growth and redistribution, and freedom and security.
When Hoover decried the role of government, his philosophy really didn’t jibe with his government’s actions, as he certainly did try an interventionist tack. I would argue that his intervention was counter-productive, and never provided the benefits of redistribution to the people who needed the most at the time. Basically, he screwed up in every way possible.
Nevertheless, his last gasp against intervention reflects the end of an era, as the modern period of a much larger role for government was born, and has never ended. Indeed, although the modern GOP and the conservative movement in particular have always decried the growth of government, the reality is that they have contributed to it. Nixon’s administration was more liberal than Kennedy’s or Clinton’s. Reagan never really tried to cut spending. The last time the GOP seriously tried to reduce spending was right after the Contract with America, and that effort was very short-lived. The American people didn’t want such cuts. The man who said that “the welfare state is here to stay” wasn’t Barack Obama or Ted Kennedy. It was Newt Gingrich.
I have little patience with those on the right who equate the recent health care package with totalitarianism. Clearly, these people demean the profound suffering that such governments caused by making that analogy. Nor do I consider the country’s recent turn to the left an accident. When the capitalist system falls short during periodic downturns, the electorate often chooses to buffer the pain of such downturns with policies consistent with a social democracy.
Having said that, increased government intervention will have its costs, as it always does. Government intervention means a less dynamic and productive economy, with fewer people taking risks and creating jobs. It can’t be any other way. When you tax something, you discourage future output. One may argue that this effect is minimal, but that position is an uphill battle.
The United States unfortunately faces a relatively long period of diminished expectations, and a greater government role is inevitable. This will lessen the pain, but it won’t foster an environment critical for a future recovery. If the United States does not make growth a priority somewhere down the line, and the government refuses to rein in its spending because the electorate is unwilling to make a shared sacrifice, then the United States will be in the same place as Greece in ten to fifteen years. This must be avoided.
So let the danged argument continue…
Thank you, Scott. I look forward to your elaboration on the questions I asked.